A History of Western Philosophy: 3

Renaissance Philosophy



Oxford New York





1 The Historical Context of Renaissance Philosophy



The philosophical heritage of antiquity and
the Middle. Ages



Philosophy in a Renaissance context






Church and state



The Renaissance transformation of philosophy



2 Aristotelianism



Renaissance Aristotelianisms



Unity and diversity in the Aristotelian tradition



Eight Renaissance Aristotelians



3 Platonism



From Aristotle to Plato



Marsilio Ficino



Giovanni Pico and Nicholas of Cusa



Pious, perennial, and Platonic philosophies:
Francesco Patrizi



4 Stoics, Sceptics, Epicureans, and Other Innovators



Humanism, authority, and uncertainty



Lorenzo Valla: language against logic



The simple method of Peter Ramus and
its forerunners



The crisis of doubt



Justus Lipsius on a new moral code



Politics and moral disorder: Erasmus, More, and





5 Nature against Authority: Breaking Away
from the Classics



Books of learning and nature



Giordano Bruno's philosophical passions



New philosophies of nature



6 Renaissance Philosophy and Modern Memory











Stoics, Sceptics, Epicureans, and Other Innovators

Humanism, authority, and uncertainty

Humanists gave three gifts to philosophy in the Renaissance:
new methods, new information, and new doubts. The recovery
of so much Greek and Roman learning meant that there were
more choices to make in the quest for wisdom, and that dis-
criminations would be sharper as history, philology, and philo-
sophy became finer instruments. Thinkers and schools that had
been little more than names for medieval readers took on
fuller identities; the clearer the distinctions among them, the
more obvious it became that the ancients often disagreed with
one another. Despite the yearning for a single truth, intellec-
tual authority in the Middle Ages had never been unitary;
Peter Abelard wrote his book on Yes and No, and debates on
universals and scores of other topics made scholasticism pro-
verbially disputatious. But the humanists who blamed the
schoolmen for their contentiousness uncovered older texts that
multiplied and hardened philosophical discord. The quarrels
that Plethon started about Plato and Aristotle were one aspect
of these new divisions, and Bessarion's response was a sign of
the common nostalgia for harmony. Conciliation came harder
when two titans of classical thought, Aristotle and Plato, were
revealed in relatively reliable Greek and then fixed in print
and sold all over Europe. As scholars learned more about
antiquity, they found more to disagree about. One of the
reclaimed texts that spread the divisive news about classical
thought, the Lives of Diogenes Laertius, was a doxography, a.
work that highlighted changes and differences of opinion (doxa)
among its subjects, and as humanists' uncovered more data on
the various Hellenistic schools--Stoics, Epicureans, Academ-


ics, and others--the depth of their disharmony became obvious.
and troubling. The Middle Ages had to connect faith with
ancient reason mainly in the person of Aristotle, but now that
there were more giants for the dwarfs to ride upon, travel
became treacherous. In an age so given to deference, dissent
among the authorities caused scandal and bred despair. Yet it
encouraged braver thinkers to assert and sometimes to die for
the philosophical liberty that we now hold dear.

Thanks to these bolder spirits, a new critical temper entered
philosophy. This transformation justifies the picture of the
Renaissance as an age of adventure and originality, but power-
ful contrary forces were also at work. To legitimize criticism,
early modern people typically felt obliged to make one author-
ity the cause of objections to another, and the starting-points
for their doubts were texts hallowed by age and custom. Thus,
in literary culture the classics sowed the seeds of their own
destruction, just as the Bible planted a thousand theological
doubts once large numbers of ordinary Christians began to
read it from different points of view. Since Aristotle dominated
early modern philosophy, it was most often Peripatetic dogma
that took the brunt of contradiction from philosophical sys-
tems newly opened up. The Middle Ages knew some of the
same Latin authors who undercut certainty in the Renaissance;
Cicero and Seneca, for example, were always familiar names.
But in late antiquity a process of selection--partly physical,
partly cultural--began a winnowing of the ancient documents
that left them fragmented and thinly scattered for medieval
readers. Renaissance humanists regathered the dispersed texts
and amplified their disruptive potential by requiring that they
be read, not as isolated proof-texts for one Christian position
or another, but as parts of a larger, non-Christian whole with
its own cultural integrity. Only in the context of a deliberately
historical philology did the classics gain their full power as
engines of discord in early modern culture. In the Middle
Ages, antiquity was less hurtful because its presence was vague
and diffuse, but even a dull sword can cut both ways. Except
for Aristotle, the classical texts were less potent for every
medieval use, whether to buttress the establishment or to


undermine it. Everyone knew that Plato upheld the immortal-
ity of the soul, but no one could cite the precise structure or
wording of his arguments. On the other hand, Nicholas of
Autrecourt learned enough from Aristotle's physics about
atomism to see its advantages over Peripatetic matter theory,
but in the fourteenth century he lacked the more potent am-
munition that would be recovered with Lucretius and Diogenes
in the next century. On physical and metaphysical questions,
what Nicholas saw in Aristotle was dangerous enough to move
the papacy to extract a recantation from him in 1347. 1

While at the Council of Constance in 1417, Poggio Braccio-
lini made a troublesome find, the unfinished didactic poem On
the Nature of Things by Lucretius
, a contemporary of Cicero.
This long Latin poem is the most informative source on the
atomist philosophy of Epicurus, who died in 270 BCE. Lucretius
explains the nature of the universe in order to quiet the fears
that give rise to religion. Those who understand nature's vital
cycles will not dread death. Nature is nothing but atoms moving
in the void, and all natural kinds, including the human, are
material aggregates formed from the chance swerve of atoms
in their various shapes and sizes. In certain combinations,
atoms give rise to life and sense, but Epicurus showed that
man's mind and soul are nothing more than very fine material
particles, and therefore mortal. Death ends life altogether, so
we should fear no after-life. The gods exist, but they did not
create us, and they care nothing for us. Our world and every-
thing in it arose from an accidental meeting of atoms in
nothingness. The gods, also made, of atoms, are immortal,
tranquil, and content, and so should mortals be if they truly
understood that the human condition is material. Such a philo-
sophy could scarcely elicit Christian sympathies, and during
the Middle Ages, when Lucretius, Diogenes, and other sources
were unavailable or little known, 'Epicurean' was only a con-
ventional label for the most contemptible atheist materialism
and hedonist dissipation, a caricature of a system which taught



Weinberg ( 1948; 1967: 266-93); Crombie ( 1959: ii. 35-40); Copleston
( 1960-6: iii. 135-48); Murdoch ( 1982: 575-7); Elford ( 1988: 311-17).


that pleasure comes from avoiding pain in a life of austere
temperance. A Dominican friar of the fourteenth century left
this typical description:

Epicurus the Athenian . . . left many brilliant writings . . ., but he
erred more than all other philosophers, . . . for he denied God's
providence, . . . [and] said that God does not care for humans, . . .
that the world existed always, . . . that pleasure is the highest good
and that the soul perishes with the body.

By the early fifteenth century, the humanist Cosimo Raimondi
could point to controversy about the real views of Epicurus
and even argue that pleasure (voluptas) of body as well as soul
is a legitimate good that requires corporeal along with spiritual
well-being, Later, the young Ficino interested himself in an
interpretation of Epicurean voluptas that identified it with
God's cosmic love as a kind of life-force shared by all human-
ity, and Filelfo wrote in praise of bodily pleasure as a good in
itself. By around 1469, a maturer Ficino had finished his Phile-
commentary, in which he still approved of pleasure when
constrained by wisdom and joined to the satisfaction of intellect
and will. 2

The commoner way to sanitize Epicurus was to make him as
ascetic as the Stoics, another ancient school that became better
known in the Renaissance, and since equanimity was an aim of
both these philosophies, attempts at conciliating them could be
convincing. Bruni unimpressive Introduction to Moral Philo-
, written around 1425 and digested mainly from a few
works of Cicero, made a good preface for printed editions of
Aristotle's ethical works through the next century because it
took a Peripatetic stance on the nature of the good, but Bruni
also summarized Stoic and Epicurean views in this little dia-
logue. Accepting Aristotle's claim that happiness (eudaimonial



The quotation is anonymous; see Garin ( 1961a: 72-92, esp. 77); also
Gabotto ( 1889); Radetti ( 1889); Timmermans ( 1938); Allen ( 1944); Garin
( 1959; 1965a: 47-50); Jungkuntz ( 1962); Wind ( 1967: 34-5, 44-52, 62-71,
141-51); Epicurisme ( 1969); Pagnoni ( 1974); Raimondi ( 1974); Ficino ( 1975,
with Allen's commentary on 15-18, 20, 26-8, 56); Kraye ( 1979; 1981; 1988:
374-86); Flores ( 1980); Reeve ( 1980); Kristeller ( 1988a: 14, 189-92, 298-301,
319; 1988M: 279-80).


beatitas) is the highest end, he then asked what happiness is.
The Stoics considered 'virtue alone . . . sufficient for happiness:
neither imprisonment, nor torture, nor any pain . . . could
stand in the way of the happy life. . . . This is the sort of thing
the Stoics usually teach. I rather doubt it's true,' he added,
'but it certainly is a stout and manly creed.' As for the Epi-
cureans, they 'maintained that pleasure was the final and ulti-
mate end', but they also advised 'the wise man . . . [to] endure
small pains in order to avoid the greater' and thereby find the
'tranquillity of mind brought about by emptying oneself of all
one's troubles'. Bruni goes on to say that Aristotelians sub-
ordinated virtue to happiness as the soul's welfare. Having
heard these descriptions, his partner in the dialogue finds that
he likes all three moral systems, and Bruni concurs. 'Those
doctrines . . . have endured,' he comments, 'and although they
may battle over words, they are . . . very close.' Stoics correctly
emphasize virtue; their differences with the Peripatetics over
the status of external bodily goods are mainly verbal. Epicur-
eans are right to claim that pleasure is needed for happiness.
'All of them seem to say the same things, or nearly so, at least
about the highest good.' 3 The key element in Bruni's brief for
reconciliation is that all three points of view 'have endured'.
His genial classicism was still intoxicated with antiquity: the
more old texts the better, whatever they may say. This exag-
gerates Bruni's docility, of course, for he was not afraid to
criticize Plato or distort Aristotle; but it reveals something
about the time that he lived in, when one new textual discovery
followed another, year after year. It was the age of philological

Juan Luis Vives lived a. sadder life in a harder time. 4 He was
born in 1492, when the Catholic kings who sent Columbus to



Translation in Bruni ( 1987: 270-3); above, Ch. 2, n. 18.


For the Latin writings, see Vives ( 1782-5) with more recent edns. and
translations by Fantazzi, Guerlac, Lenkeith, Tobriner, and others in Vives
( 1968; 1974; 1979a; 1979b; 1987; 1989; 1991); and Cassirer, Kristeller, and
Randall ( 1948: 385-93). For the secondary literature see Kater ( 1908); Bonilla y San Martin
( 1929); Sancipriano ( 1957); Colish ( 1962); Vasoli ( 1968a; 214-
46); Noreña ( 1970; 1975: 20-35; 1989); Cassirer ( 1974: i. 120-30); Buck
( 1981a); Waswo ( 1987: 113-33).


the New World drove the Jews from Spain. Thirty years later,
the Inquisition sent his converso father to the stake; then his
mother was exhumed to be burned; and his sisters lost all
rights to their parents' property. Vives, tormented by these
griefs, remained a leading Christian humanist, perhaps a finer
Christian than Erasmus. After a short stay in Valencia, where
Antonio de Nebrija was importing humanism from Italy, he
went to Paris in 1509. He was one of several distinguished
Spaniards studying at the College of Montaigu when John
Mair was in his prime, but, like Erasmus, he approved neither
the puritan regime nor the nominalist curriculum nor the in-
tractable students. Montaigu's only positive influence on Vives
was to introduce him to the simple spirituality of the Brethren
of the Common Life, which Jean Standonck had brought with
him from the Low Countries. In 1512 Vives left for Bruges,
and he spent most of his life there as a private teacher, with
longer and shorter excursions to England and Louvain, where
he began to lecture occasionally in 1520. Many of his friends
were Christian humanists and disciples of Erasmus, whom
Vives first met in 1516. His major Erasmian project was an
edition, with commentary, of Augustine City of God, con-
taining criticisms of popes, friars, scholastics, sacraments, and
other Catholic institutions that brought Vives repeated con-
demnations and a place on the Index. Although his relation-
ship with Erasmus cooled by 1518, it continued until 1534, not
always pleasantly. News of his father's trial in 1522 brought
Vives graver worries. Despite his family's troubles, he never
returned to Spain, and in 1523 he travelled to England and
Oxford, where he made valuable friendships in the circle of
Thomas More that led to his becoming a confidant of Catherine
of Aragon. Vives spent happy intervals teaching in Oxford's
Corpus Christi College, a new humanist foundation of 1516,
but Catherine's troubles ended his English connection in 1528,
when Henry VIII cut off his money and he found himself back
in Bruges, unemployed. For twelve years until he died in 1540
he scraped for a living, but this difficult period produced some
of his finest writing.

Vives wrote bestsellers, especially in the field of education,


that saw hundreds of editions in several languages in the six-
teenth and seventeenth centuries. He was a humanist critic of
philosophy read more widely than most philosophers of the
period. As an educator he promoted better conditions for
women and poor people; he wanted them well supervised in
secular schools run by professionals competent to teach lan-
guage, moral development, and various practical skills. His
main contributions to philosophy were attempts to reform
logic and to present a fuller history of the ancient discipline.
More than most humanists of the previous century, he was
open to the view that past experience permits improvement in
the present state of learning: 'if only we put our minds to it,
we can generally formulate better opinions about matters of
life and nature than Aristotle, Plato or any of the ancients.' A
scholar must be modest, but not timid: 'the comparison that
some people make is false and foolish, . . . that we are carried
further as dwarfs on the shoulders of giants., It's not so: we are
not dwarfs, and those people were not giants; all are of the
same stature.' Age is no guarantee of wisdom, though some
say that 'the older anyone is, the greater . . . his name and
credit. Why? Was Aristotle not later than Anaxagoras, Cicero
later than Cato?' 5 These questions show that Vives had gained
enough temporal perspective to make critical distinctions
among the ancients, and he firmly believed that philosophy
was impotent if it lacked this historical depth. His college in
Paris had banned the humanist subjects that Lefèvre and others
advocated, but Vives turned bitterly against the terminism of
Montaigu as educationally useless because it was philologically
and historically barren. 'If they put in some history, false and
foolishly told,' he complained, they say 'it's not my field. . . .
What is your field, then? To get nothing right?' 6

Vives found the times he lived in so dismal that things were
bound to brighten up; the reform of letters was the first gleam
of a new dawn. One improvement in the human condition was
a richer sense of intellectual history, for which Vives drew a



Vives ( 1782-5: vi. 6-7, 38-42); Noreña ( 1970: 152-5).


Vives ( 1782-5: vi. 62-3); Noreña ( 1970: 158-9).


baseline in the time before Socrates, dividing the pre-Socratic
thinkers into three groups: first, the Druids, Brahmins, and
other un-Hellenic sages who gave wisdom to Orpheus and
other figures of Greek legend; then the Greeks from Thales to
Pythagoras who studied nature and worked apart in two
schools, the Ionic and Italic. The study of nature grew ever
more detailed and wearisome until Socrates turned from phy-
sical to moral questions, and then 'philosophy divided itself
into various factions and streams . . ., derived from Socrates
as if from a sacred . . . fountain'--Dogmatists, Sceptics, Stoics,
Epicureans, and others, much as Cicero had described them.
Vives' treatment of the Epicureans is not much fairer than the
medieval slander: 'they stand belligerently for pleasure, and
subject to it even virtue, . . . shamefully ordering the mistress
of the universe to enslave herself to brutish instincts.' 7 For
religious reasons Vives was kinder to Plato, but, at least in the
early works of 1518 and 1520 On the Origins, Sects, and Praises
of Philosophy and Against the Pseudodialecticians
, Aristotle
reigns. His philosophy is a coherent whole written in good
Greek and well suited to teaching, especially in the critical
area of language. The modern Peripatetics, worst of all the
terminists whom Vives knew at Montaigu, squandered Aris-
totle's bequest of a linguistically sensitive and morally useful
philosophy. Influenced by Valla and Rudolf Agricola, though
never a mouthpiece for Valla's more strident complaints, Vives
wanted a reformed logic suited to the needs of education.

In his later treatise On the Disciplines of 1531, he protested
that the logicians have 'strayed into infinity in all their dialectic
but especially in the Little Logicals. . . . In Paris they spend
two years on dialectic, barely a year on the rest of philosophy
--nature, morals and metaphysics.' 8 If Peter of Spain gave
correct laws for language, then Cicero and many other Latin
authors must have been wrong. For Vives, 'correct' discourse
depends solely on the experience of reading competent ancient
writers, with no allowance for formalization or any other de-
parture from ordinary language--where 'ordinary' indicates



Vives ( 1987: 38-41 [Roberts trans.]).


Vives ( 1979a: 143); Noreña ( 1975: 2-5); above, Ch. 2, n. 44.


literary prose, not the unrecorded speech of the Roman streets.
What irked him most were artificial propositions of the kind
used by Mair and his followers to test problems of quantity,
ambiguity, reference, and so forth. Logical monsters like the
following were his worst nightmare: 'Only any non-donkey C
of anyone except Sortes and another C belonging to this same
person begin contingently to be black.' Vives knew that his
own learned Latin was a far cry from the common vernaculars,
but he used the difference between Latin and Spanish or
Flemish only to bait the dialecticians, who cranked out reams
of freakish sentences about Sortes and Brownie, the ubiqui-
tous little ass who brayed in so many scholastic syllogisms.
'Lucky for these people that they still dispute . . . in some
semblance of Latin,' he snickered, 'for if such madness were
understood by the common people, the whole mob of workers
would hoot them out of town.' 9 He ruled Mair's mutant sen-
tences out of court because he could not accept them as Latin,
and the logic that he demanded was to be 'a Latin dialectic,
[whose] words will take their meaning from Latin tradition and
custom, not from our own'. Contrast this ultimatum with the
words of a widely used logic book now in print: 'the preferred
status of English in this book is a matter only of the authors'
convenience; the subsequent treatment would apply as well to
French, German or Coptic.' Such a thought would have as-
tounded Vives, who maintained that logic regulates language
rather than thought, and that logical rules or examples cannot
be so far abstracted from the particular language governed by
them that normal speech conventions no longer apply. Mair,
of course, did not write grotesquely to be perverse or obtuse.
He was after a rigour believed to come only from technical
manipulations of language not meant for daily use. 'I hope to
die if any of them knows what this rigour is,' Vives snarled,
defining rigour differently as the strictest adherence to classical
usage, not abstracted from cogitation in the manner of a logician
but collected from reading in the manner of a naturalist. 10



Vives ( 1979a: 66-9, 134-5); Kalish, Montague, and Mar ( 1980: 3);
above, Ch. 2, nn. 39-42; below, pp. 217 -30.


Vives ( 1979a: 52-5, 76-7); Copenhaver ( 1988b: 100-6).


In 1531 Vives wrote a brief treatise On First Philosophy, a
compendium of Peripatetic fundamentals meant only as a pro-
visional and conjectural gesture toward curricular requirements
that students could not avoid. The Censura de Aristotelis operi-
of 1538 was a simple catalogue of the Aristotelian Corpus.
These utilitarian works in no sense contradicted the stiff anti-
Aristotelian posture of De disciplinis, where he indeed cen-
sured Aristotle -- not just his Peripatetic followers -- for moral
and doctrinal lapses. The Stagirite dealt dishonestly with his
predecessors and distorted history in order to deter criticism.
His metaphysics is murky, his natural philosophy sketchy and
superficial, his moral philosophy too closely tied to worldly
goods, and his logic too far removed from practical use. Vives
rated knowledge in moral and pragmatic terms and decried the
prideful isolation of philosophy from the needs of mankind
and the glory of God. Inquiry for its own sake he considered
sinful. To be credible and worthwhile, knowledge must serve
some Providential end. 'Human inquiry comes to conjectural
conclusions,' he claimed, 'for we do not deserve certain knowl-
edge [scientia], stained by sin as we are and hence burdened
with the great weight of the body; nor do we need it, for we
see that man is ordained lord and master of everything in the
sublunary world.' Real knowledge needs to be deserved, not
just discovered, and in its fallen state mankind lacks the neces-
sary worth. Ignorance and uncertainty are moral faults that we
owe to Adam's sin. Our defective senses cannot be trusted to
report the truth, especially when warped by evil passions, but
all our natural knowledge comes through sensation, so we
have no real certainty. To brighten the darkness, however,
God allows a 'natural light' to illuminate our minds, which is
how we can see our place in the order of things without
demonstrative proof. Vives found philosophical grounds for
this insight in the Stoic doctrine of common notions (koinai
ennoiai) or preconceptions (prolêpseis) as reported by Cicero.
He thought of these notions not as distinct claims about the
world but rather as generalized attitudes shared by all schools
of philosophy. To discover these broad points of view one
needs the help of the best and the brightest, the summi auctores


of old. 11 One cannot call Vives a sceptic. His Christian human-
ism made him relax his grip on certainty, but he tempered his
doubts by appealing to common notions shared by all the
right-thinking ancients. In the end, he reverts to a slightly
cynical version of Bruni's genteel classicism and of the élitist
pedagogy that it implies.

To speak, read, and write the 'ordinary' language that Vives
made the norm of all discourse required a thorough 'and costly
education in the classics. Vives wanted to broaden the reach of
such schooling to persons usually shut out -- women and the
poor, especially -- but for all its good intentions the humanist
programme could never be populist. 12 One extreme expression
of the contrary, aristocratic instinct in humanism was the
Ciceronian controversy of the 1520s and after. Scholars quar-
relled over the limits of normative usage: how far might one
stray from the diction and syntax enshrined in classical texts?
which classical texts? what is a classic? A fashionable answer
to such questions was that Cicero, the prince of eloquence,
should surely be the arbiter of language, and so some scholars
shunned all words and all syntactic structures not found in
Cicero's works. This ban applied even' to the Church's Latin,
where one must write flamen for 'pope' and proconsul for
'bishop'; Jesus becomes Apollo and the Virgin Mary is Diana.
Erasmus, who had himself translated the Logos ('Word') of
the Greek New Testament as Sermo instead of the traditional
Verbum, found this pedantry pagan as well as foolish, and he
said so in his Ciceronianus of 1528, in which he also reviewed
leading Latin writers of the day for style. Vives forgave his
colleague for skipping him altogether, but Erasmus gained few
friends from this broadside. Etienne Dolet and Julius Caesar
Scaliger attacked his betrayal of Cicero, whom the humanists
had made their icon in the eternal dispute between rhetoric



Cicero, Academica 2. 7. 21, 30-1; Vives ( 1782-5: iii. 188); Noreña
( 1970: 238-53); Long ( 1986: 123-4); Long and Sedley ( 1987: i. 236-53).


Grafton and Jardine ( 1986: pp. xi-xvi, 56-7, 210-20) see the rise of
classicism not as 'the natural triumph of virtue over vice' but as something
more problematic, culturally and politically.


Erasmus ( 1908; 1965b: pp. xxxii-xlix, 148); Bainton ( 1969: 204-10);
O'Rourke Boyle ( 1977: 3-37); Chomarat ( 1981).


and philosophy. Cicero's philosophical excursions seemed to
show that the orator had the best of the dialectician even on
the latter's turf. 13 These issues were much on the mind of
Mario Nizolio as he compiled his massive Observations on
Marcus Tullius Cicero
, published in 1535. The Observationes is
a Latin dictionary of about 20,000 entries, all from Cicero's
works. It was the tool that could implement the Ciceronian
agenda in its most militant form, and even Peripatetic philo-
sophy was not secure. Joachim Périon tried to put all of Aris-
totle into Ciceronian Latin, and nearly did it.

Born in Boretto on the river Po in 1488, Nizolio had entered
the service of a noble family in Brescia by 1522 and stayed
with them until 1540, when he left to seek a university post in
Milan. 14 Instead, the faculty chose Marco Antonio Maioragio,
a much younger philosopher and lawyer of Aristotelian back-
ground. Later, between 1546 and 1548, Nizolio exchanged
polemics with Maioragio when the latter charged that the Stoic
paradoxes found in Cicero's works were not genuinely Socratic
and that, in any case, Cicero was a mere orator, not a real
philosopher. Maioragio compared Cicero's ideas unfavourably
with Plato's; Nizolio replied by restating George of Trebizond's
case against Plato. He also recalled how Trapezuntius showed
that the logician had no better hold on techniques of argument
than the rhetorician. As the controversy continued, Nizolio's
language grew more extreme, and on grounds of linguistic
incompetence he accused Maioragio of lacking any skill in
philosophical discourse. He also took Maioragio's liking for
Plato and his advocate Bessarion as a symptom of mental
illness. Besides Trapezuntius, Nizolio referred to Gianfrancesco
Pico to prove that certain works of Aristotle were inauthentic,
and to Agricola to buttress his case for the power of rhetorical
argument. Of the five parts of rhetoric -- invention, disposition,
style, delivery, and memory -- dialectic knows only the first,
and of the six parts of invention the four that touch on logic



Nizolio ( 1956, with Breen introd., pp. xv-lxxv); Sabbadini ( 1885);
Rossi ( 1953a; 1953b); Breen ( 1954; 1955a; 1955b; 1958); Garin ( 1965a: 156-
8); Vasoli ( 1968a: 606-63); Nizzoli ( 1970); Cassirer ( 1974: i. 149-53); Wesseler
( 1974).


are better served by rhetoric. Therefore, the orator has ab-
solutely no need of the dialectician; discourse is entirely free
of philosophy.

In 1548 Nizolio defended Cicero's honour again, this time
against the late Celio Calcagnini of Ferrara, whose Disqui-
against Cicero had appeared posthumously in 1544.
Nizolio had taken his oratorical suppression of philosophy to
extremes in his attacks on Maioragio, but his Defences against
Calcagnini leaned even harder on the integrity of philosophy.
If any problem can be said to belong to philosophy, it is the
problem of universals, but Nizolio ingeniously proposed to
solve it by applying the rhetorical figure of speech called
synecdoche, which usually refers to a more complete term by
one less complete -- genus by species, for example, or whole by
part, as when an actor walks the boards rather than the stage.
Nizolio claimed that propositions of the form 'man is a rational
animal' are expressed in synecdoche because whatever is pre-
dicated of the singular term 'man' really belongs to all 'men' in
the plural. The part stands for the whole. 'Man' is not a
universal; it is a turn of phrase, a decorative substitute for the
plural 'men'. Rhetoric shows that the nominalists are right.
Philosophy is expendable. The unlikely origin of this amazing
argument was Calcagnini's obscure complaint that the title of
Cicero's work On Duties ought to have been singular, De
instead of De officiis, surely not one of the great issues
of anyone's time. 'I say . . . that Cicero could have entitled his
book in either way,' replied Nizolio.

It is common among the great men . . . to use the singular number for
the plural, . . . the part for the whole. Grammarians call this synec-
doche. . . . [And] that singular number is figurative. . . . When one
uses the plural number . . . it is not figurative but literal. . . . When we
say, Man is a rational mortal animal, one man stands for all men. . . .
In view of all this there is no need of . . . those things which dialec-
ticians and philosophers call universals. . . . They have not been
brought forth from the nature itself of things but from their false and
empty imaginations. . . . Universals . . . do exist, but not in the man-
ner . . . assigned to them by the dialecticians.

Leibniz, who respected Nizolio as a critic of philosophical


terminology while differing with his position on universals,
acknowledged the value of this argument against confusing
poetic metaphor with philosophical analysis. 15 Nizolio's aims
were even more aggressive, however. His discussion of synec-
doche was only one proof that grammar and rhetoric must
replace metaphysics and formal logic in every respect. Philo-
sophy has declined almost continuously since Socrates fought
with Gorgias; Cicero brought one of the few moments of
respite when he rejoined eloquence to wisdom. Nizolio laid
out his rhetorical reform programme fully in his sizable treatise
of 1553, On the True Principles and True Method of Philo-
, Against the Pseudophilosophers, which Leibniz
thought worthy of editing more than a hundred years later. 16
Nizolio's most original forerunner in this radical project of
anti-philosophy was Lorenzo Valla.

Lorenzo Valla: language against logic

Valla was born in Rome around 1407 to a family of jurists with
good connections at the papal court, where eventually he found
employment after four decades of preparation and service to.
lesser masters. 17 His early education in Rome, which then



Nizolio ( 1956: pp. liii-lvi, lxxiii [ Breen trans.]); Nizzoli ( 1970: 56-7);
Leibniz ( 1969: 121-30); Aiton ( 1985: 30-2).


Nizolio ( 1956: pp. lxiii-lxxv); Nizzoli ( 1970: 58.-73); Monfasani ( 1988:


For the collected Latin works see Valla ( 1962), a reprint; recent edns.
and translations by Anfossi, Coleman, Hieatt, Lorch, Perosa, Pugliese,
Trinkaus, and Zippel appear in Valla ( 1922; 1934; 1953; 1970a; 1970b; 1977;
1982; 1984; 1985); and Cassirer, Kristeller and Randall ( 1948: 147-82).
Besides the introductions to these edns., for other important secondary litera-
ture, see Gabotto ( 1889); Barozzi and Sabbadini ( 1891); Mancini ( 1891);
Casacci ( 1926); Timmermans ( 1938); Gaeta ( 1955); Kristeller ( 1964a: 19-36);
Garin ( 1965a: 50-6); Gray ( 1965); Seigel ( 1968: 137-69); Vasoli ( 1968a: 28-
77); Fois ( 1969); Trinkaus ( 1970: i. 103-70, 200-10; ii. 571-8, 633-8, 674-
82; 1983: 151-9, 214-20, 263-73, 385-96, 441-6; 1988a; 1988b; 1989b); Di Napoli
( 1971); Camporeale ( 1972; 1976; 1988); Giannantonio ( 1972); Levine
( 1973); Gerl ( 1974); Fubini ( 1975); Setz ( 1975); Lorch ( 1976; 1985; 1988);
Jardine ( 1977; 1981; 1983); Panizza ( 1978); Kessler ( 1980); Gravelle ( 1981;
1982; 1988; 1989); Perreiah ( 1982); Bentley ( 1983: 32-69); Kahn ( 1983; 1985);
Monfasani ( 1983b; 1989; 1990); Stuever ( 1983); Antonazzi ( 1985); Grafton
and Jardine ( 1986: 65-82); Vickers ( 1986); Waswo ( 1987: 88-113; 1989).


lacked a university, was private and self-directed, but it was
good enough to include Greek and other humanist attainments.
Although he had no university degree, Valla taught in the
early 1430s at Pavia, where the philosophy of Oxford and Paris
had become fashionable; but even more than Petrarch and
Bruni he learned to despise scholasticism in all its guises, legal,
theological, and philosophical. Valla launched his long career
as a polemicist at Pavia by befriending teachers of law who
wished to cleanse their discipline of Aristotelianism, and his
combative habits soon forced him to leave the university. Be-
ginning in 1435, he spent thirteen years working for Alfonso of
Aragon, who at the time ruled. Sicily and also had designs on
Naples. Alfonso's ambitions brought him into conflict with the
pope, and their rivalry was the occasion of Valla's best-
remembered work, the Declamation on the Falsely Credited
and Fabricated Donation of Constantine
, written in 1440 to
refute papal claims to Western hegemony and Italian territory.
The document in question, actually a product of the eighth
century, recorded the emperor's gift of land and political
authority to Pope Sylvester in the early fourth century, after
Sylvester had miraculously cured Constantine of leprosy. Ar-
guing from defective documentation, implausible motivations,
and anachronisms of language, style, and fact, Valla proved
the Donation a forgery, prefacing his Declamation with strong
but careful language that religious reformers of the next cen-
tury would exploit: 'I dare not say', he threatened, 'that, on
instruction from me, others should prune the rank growth in
the Papal See, Christ's vineyard, of its excessive branches.' 18
Ulrich von Hutten and others were happy to take the hint,
which Valla offered in the narrower context of territorial poli-
tics but which also reflected a broad feature of his work, his
wish to heal the religious ills of his day with the medicine of

Alfonso got what he wanted in Naples by 1442. Valla stayed
with him six more years, until a move to Rome in 1448 ended
the most productive phase of his career. While translating



Valla ( 1922: 24-5); Setz ( 1975); Antonazzi ( 1985); Camporeale ( 1988).


Greek historians for Nicholas V and defeating George of Tre-
bizond in a contest for a chair of rhetoric, Valla continued to
revise earlier works and added some new ones, including the
responses to the Invectives that Poggio began to hurl at him in
1452. Ill will had divided the two scholars since the early
1430s, when Valla made Poggio, Bruni, and other famous
humanists speakers in his dialogue On Pleasure, revised in
1433 and retitled On the True Good and the False. 19 To the
time-honoured question about the nature of the good Valla
gave a startling answer: voluptas or pleasure, a choice that
upset not only Christian expectations but also the superficial
Stoicism often favoured by the very humanist notables whom he
made speak his lines. After a Stoic spokesman's unconvincing
plea for virtue as its own reward in the face of bitter natural
necessity, Valla introduced his Epicurean (originally the poet
Antonio Beccadelli or Panormita; later Maffeo Vegio, also a
poet and a priest), who made the case for pleasure as utility
within the confines of mortal life. This abbreviated Epicurean-
ism was more faithful to Valla's own ideal of practical oratori-
cal virtue than to the views of Epicurus, but its presentation
provided plenty of provocative material on the joys of sensual-
ity. A passage condoning adultery, for example, maintains that
'it makes no difference at all whether a woman has sex with
her husband or her lover. Take away the distinction of that
perverse term "wedlock", and you have made one and the
same thing of wedlock and adultery.' The dialogic structure of
the work and its rhetorical subtlety shift the onus of such
opinions from the author to his interlocutors. 20 But Valla was
no prisoner of propriety. He dismissed the Aristotelian scheme
of virtue as a mean between vices, and he preferred Epicur-
ean to Stoic ethics because it revealed the emptiness of self-
contained moral rectitude (honestas). Christians need God and
the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity (caritas) that
God gives them. Hence, Christian virtue can only be a means



Valla ( 1970a; 1977, with introds. by Lorch, pp. xv-lxxvi and 7-46); Lorch
( 1988: 341-7); Kristeller ( 1964a: 27-33); Trinkaus ( 1970: i. 103-50; 1988a:


Valla ( 1977: 118-19); Panizza ( 1978); cf. Vickers ( 1986).


to some greater good, which Valla located in divine love
(caritas) as the ultimate pleasure (voluptas) for humans whose
immortal destiny carries them beyond the material boundaries
of the Epicurean cosmos. From Epicurean materials he fash-
ioned a Christian hedonism.

Between 1435, and 1443, Valla wrote another moral dialogue,
On Free Will, that tested the compatibility of God's fore-
knowledge and man's moral liberty. He argued that knowing a
future state of affairs, that something will be, implies causality.
no more than knowing that something is, a present condition:
realizing that night will fall does not make the sun set. To
understand the trickier condition of divine foreknowledge, he
used the distinction between Apollo's wisdom and Jupiter's
will to show that the two faculties can be separate, even in a
single deity. In the end, we cannot know what causes God to
will our destinies, to harden some hearts but not others. Citing
St Paul on the folly of human wisdom, Valla concluded that
'we stand by faith, not by the probability of reason'. Religion
provides the only answer; no salvation lies in philosophy, a
seed-bed of heresy, and rhetoric is a better aid to faith than
dialectic. 21 Despite his evident passion for philosophy, this
pious anti-intellectualism was a constant in Valla's work. As a
humanist living in an age of religious crisis, he wanted to
reform Christianity by restoring it to the simpler and purer
state that he found in the scriptures and the Fathers. He saw
the development of philosophical theology between Boethius
and Aquinas as a catastrophe from which contemporary theo-
logians had not recovered; he wanted to replace scholasticism
with a rhetorical theology capable of turning the human heart
toward Christ. Time and again he challenged cardinal points of
Christian belief -- the superiority of the monastic life, the
special efficacy of religious vows, the usefulness of sacramental
theology -- in the conviction that his own linguistically acute
faith was closer to Gospel purity. In 1444 he quarrelled with a
famous Franciscan preacher who made particular apostles res-



Cassirer, Kristeller, and Randall ( 1948: 179-81 [ Trinkaus trans., with
introd., 147-54]); Rom. 12:16; 1 Cor. 8:1; II Cor. 12:7; Trinkaus. ( 1970: i.
165-7); Kristeller ( 1964a: 26-7); Kahn ( 1983).


ponsible for verses of the Apostles' Creed, but this was only
the most public, not the most serious, of several affronts to
conventional Christianity that brought him before the Inquisi-
tion of Naples in that year. In 1457, the year of his death,
Valla turned an 'encomium' of Thomas Aquinas delivered to a
gathering of Roman Dominicans into a denunciation of scho-
lasticism and a call for an unphilosophical theology like that of
the Church Fathers. 22

A year or two before his encounter with the Inquisition,
Valla had finished the first version of the work that Erasmus
published in 1505 as Annotations on the New Testament; Valla
called it a Collation of the New Testament because it compared
the Greek text to the Latin Vulgate in a number of different
manuscripts. He found the venerable Latin version wanting in
style, clarity, and accuracy, and he wished to provide the
makings of a better translation by applying new humanist
techniques of textual criticism even to the sacred page. Because
he aimed always to improve the Latin version, his analysis of
the Greek was not complete or coherent enough to establish a
new text of the original, but he did show that serious study of
the New Testament must begin with the Greek. In scrutinizing
hundreds of words and phrases of the Latin and comparing
them to the Greek originals, he inevitably turned up linguistic
difficulties in sensitive passages which had long buttressed key
points of doctrine. In II Cor. 7:10, for example, where the
Authorized Version has 'godly sorrow worketh repentance to
salvation', he found that the Latin word for 'repentance' is
poenitentia, connoting disgust or regret, while the Greek text
has metanoia, which he found less negative in nuance, mean-
ing simply 'change of mind or heart'. In disputes over the
sacrament of penance and the forgiveness of sins that were to
pit Protestant against Catholic, much turned on this distinction,
because the passage in question was a proof-text for church
dogma on the sacrament. One can scarcely exaggerate Valla's
courage in probing the language of a book as sacrosanct as the



Trinkaus ( 1970: i. 126-30; 1983: 214-20, 263-73, 385-96; 1988a: 335-
44); Di Napoli ( 1971: 280-312); D'Amico ( 1988a: 349-55).


Bible, long revered as God's word in the most literal sense. No
wonder that a scholar brave enough to rewrite scripture also
dared to submit the deepest issues of philosophical theology to
philological tests. 23

Valla's originality made enemies not only in the theological
arena but also in the field of his greatest expertise, in humanist
philology, where he found the approach of his senior col-
leagues too tame. While Poggio, Bruni, Guarino, and others
treated the classics as establishing a normative linguistic ideal,
Valla regarded even ancient texts as contingent historical arte-
facts, and discriminated among them as better and worse ex-
amples of the linguistic usage (consuetudo) that he made his
constant guide. Poggio found reprehensible the principle that
Valla honoured unswervingly, that it was better 'to speak good
Latin than good grammar', meaning that no rationally con-
structed set of grammatical rules could replace the examples of
good usage that must be discovered empirically in the ancient
texts. Valla collected such instances of diction and syntax in
the work that was most famous in his own day and often
reprinted afterward, the Elegances of the Latin Language, a
treatise on grammar as the Renaissance understood that term
-- the fundamentals of Latin. Poggio mocked Valla for wasting
his time on so juvenile a topic and rebuked him for rejecting
so many worthy masters -- Boethius, Priscian, Augustine,
Jerome -- in favour of a sole authority, Quintilian, who finished
his twelve books On the Education of the Orator around
95 CE. Valla had bigger game in mind than Poggio knew, for
even within the limits of the Elegantiae he raised linguistic
questions of great weight philosophically and theologically. It
might seem that such topics as the proper use of possessive
pronouns and adjectives (meus/mei, tuus/tui, etc.) could delight
only a schoolmaster, but Valla's treatment of these issues
threatened the logic and metaphysics taught in the universities
of his day. To mention only one way in which Valla under-
mined scholastic philosophy: by putting philological strictures,



Trinkaus ( 1970: ii. 571-8); Di Napoli ( 1971: 101-11, 129-36); Camporeale
( 1972: 277-403); Bentley ( 1983: 32-69); Rummel ( 1985: 89-102).


empirically derived, on the use and form of possessive words
(meus or mei, for instance), he ruled out certain forms of ex-
pression that were essential to an important division of logic,
the doctrine of supposition. By declaring it impossible to say
things in Latin except as ancient consuetudo permits, Valla
made nonsense of the discourse, especially logical and meta-
physical discourse, that medieval and early modern philoso-
phers found intelligible and indispensable. In effect, he asked
philosophy to be silent about the things it could not say in
good Latin. 24

It might be tempting to dismiss Valla as a pedant, an aesthete,
or an antiquarian, especially since his leading light as an anti-
philosopher was the orator Quintilian, who has rated little
attention in histories of philosophy. Like other humanists,
Valla also admired Cicero, not only for his eloquence but also
as a transmitter of ancient philosophy. But it was Quintilian,
not Cicero, who made Valla the scourge of school philosophy.
Ouintilian Institutio oratoria -- rediscoverod, ironically, by
Poggio in 1416 -- was a comprehensive programme for the
Roman orator's education from the grammatical basics to the
last rhetorical refinements, with a good deal of moral philo-
sophy and logic added for good measure. Like Valla, Quinti-
lian had small respect for the philosophers that he knew, and
he paid allegiance to no particular school, but he had to
confront serious philosophical questions in order to complete
his educational programme. In effect, given the systematic
nature of Quintilian's effort, Poggio's discovery had presented
Valla a plausible -- if not effective -- opportunity to displace
scholasticism as doctrine and as curriculum. Valla seized the
day, trying, in a bold reversal of medieval priorities, to curb
philosophy's pretensions by absorbing it within a rhetoric that
he found better suited to the highest end of human language,
persuading people to accept the Gospel. Valla had recognized
Quintilian's significance from the first; his earliest project, now
lost, was On the Comparison of Cicero and Quintilian. Quintilian-



Valla ( 1962: 45-50 [ Elegantiae 2.1); Camporeale ( 1972: 89-108, 180-
92, 207-8); Grafton and Jardine ( 1986: 65-82); Waswo ( 1987: 91-3); below,
pp. 353 -7.


lian's Institutio, especially the fifth book on techniques of
rhetorical proof, was also a fundamental component of
Valla's most important philosophical work, the Dialectical
Disputations. 25

The title Dialecticae disputationes, although commonly
applied to all versions of the work, belongs properly to six-
teenth-century printings of the first revision that Valla may
have made as early as 1441 of his Repastinatio dialecticae et
philosophiae, which was finished by 1439 and had probably
been stimulated by his earlier experience of scholasticism at
Pavia. The eventual title of this original version, The Re-
trenching of Dialectic and Philosophy, suggests its ambitions,
which Valla thought it prudent to curtail in the substantial
expansions and excisions of the first revision, titled no less
arrogantly The Repair of All Dialectic and of the Fundamentals
of Philosophy as a Whole. He produced a second, less exten-
sive revision in the eight years before he died in 1457. The
context of this last version was his sinecure in the papal
bureaucracy and his final battle with. Poggio. The original
version was a product of the year 1439, when the Council of
Florence decreed union between the Greek and Latin churches
and tried to settle the theological issues dividing them. The
middle version, which was the first revision and the only text in
print until a few years ago, followed Valla's appearance before
the Inquisition in 1444. 26 In other words, the version that
provoked the church to censure Valla was the original Re-
pastinatio, which is perhaps the best witness of the three to its
author's genius; but the other texts, especially the third, now
available in a critical edition, are also of great philosophical

Had Valla never written the Dialectical Disputations, we
would remember him for De voluptate
and De libero arbitrio
as a creative moral philosopher, but it is unlikely that the
philological Elegantiae or the scriptural Adnotationes would
have attracted much philosophical attention in their own right.



Kennedy ( 1969); Di Napoli ( 1971: 57-63); Camporeale ( 1972: 89-100).


Camporeale ( 1972: 12-16); Zippel introd. in Valla ( 1982: pp. ix-
cxxiv); Monfasani ( 1984).


It is the Disputations that reveal the importance of all the rest
of Valla's work outside moral philosophy, the usual province
of humanism in his time. As Professor Kristeller has written,
Valla was the first to apply humanism to problems of great
philosophical scope elsewhere than in ethics, and he did so in a
truly revolutionary manner. He wanted to embrace the whole
science of language in an aggrandized rhetoric no longer limited
to persuasive argument but also including demonstration. In
doing so, he denied logic any autonomous status, reducing it
to a tool of oratory, and he implicitly dismissed most of meta-
physics as a symptom of sick Latin. Unlike most humanist cri-
tics of scholasticism, he did not simply ridicule the prose of the
Peripatetics or pick at a particular Aristotelian doctrine. Al-
though his views on metaphysics have been called 'the rhetori-
cal equivalent of nominalism', he tried to annihilate the whole
linguistic basis of scholastic philosophy and to replace what he
felt to be corrupt terminology and perverse habits of mind
with his own anti-philosophical lexicon and methodology. 27

Valla may be the only person ever denounced from the
pulpit for having written against the ten predicaments. When
speaking of metaphysics, Peripatetic philosophers regarded the
predicaments or categories as the ten most general modes of
being -- substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, posi-
tion, state, action, and affection; for logical purposes, they
treated the same words as naming the largest classes of inde-
pendently meaningful terms that could be predicated of a
subject in a proposition. In Book I of the first 'version of the
Dialectical Disputations, after a rousing declaration of the
liberty of philosophizing against the servile Aristotelians, Valla
gave twelve chapters to his case against the predicaments and
the transcendentals, the five or six features of being (ens)
treated as convertible with being itself and hence extending
beyond any of the predicaments; those that Valla wished to
eliminate were the one, the good, the true, being and some-
, leaving only res, the versatile Latin word for 'thing'.



Kristeller ( 1964a: 33-6); Trinkaus ( 1970: i. 150-5; 1988a: 340-3); Camporeale
( 1972: 76-87); cf. Seigel ( 1968: 137-69); Waswo ( 1987: 94-5); below,
n. 35, on reactions to Waswo's account of Valla's views on language.


Valla's reading of the Latin classics convinced that res was
the only term capacious enough to transcend all others, and he
criticized Aristotle for having ignored its Greek analogue,
pragma, as a basis of metaphysics. Instead, Aristotle had
chosen 'being as being' for his point of departure, a phrase
that Valla found inept because it implies that being might be
other than what it is, i.e. that it might exist as something other
than being. He rejected ens, a Latin word for 'being', as a
faulty attempt to duplicate the key participial form in Aris-
totle's phrase, to on hê on, and he showed grammatically why
ens is a poor surrogate for on. Grammar also indicates that the
Latin words for 'the true' and 'the good', verum and bonum,
are no more substantive than veritas or bonitas, abstractions
that name distinct moral and logical qualities and hence cannot
be convertible with undifferentiated and unqualified being. 28

Likewise, since numbers can be other than one, unum can
hardly transcend the categories of quantity or quality. However,
Aristotle treated unity not as a number but as the beginning of
number. To discredit what he regarded as idle Peripatetic
abstraction, Valla countered with a homely story of

two women who shared twelve hens and one 'rooster among them.
They agreed that one would have the eggs on days when the number
laid was even, but that the other would get them when the number
was odd. 'Say that sometimes single eggs were laid. To which would
the egg go; to neither?' 'No, to the one who was due the odd number
of eggs.' Therefore, one egg makes a number.

Belittling Aristotle by patronizing women, Valla showed how
ordinary language gives meaning to number-words when it
uses them to count concrete objects. 'Therefore,' he concluded,
'foolish women sometimes know the meaning of words better
than great philosophers. Women put words to use; philoso-
phers play with them.' 29 That common speech is the matrix of
meaning was one of Valla's primary findings. Another was that



Valla ( 1982: ii. 359-70, 377); Aristotle, Metaphysics 1003b19-23; Di Napoli
: ( 1971-80); Camporeale ( 1972: 153-71).


Valla ( 1982: i. 18-19; ii. 380-1); Aristotle, Metaphysics 1052a22-5,
1088-10; Waswo ( 1987: 95-7).


grammar dissolves metaphysics, as in his discussion of essentia
and esse, members of the same family of Latin words that
produced the dubious ens. To define a key metaphysical term,
the form that shapes the otherwise indefinite matter of natural
objects, Thomists used esse, the infinitive 'to be', to distinguish
actual existence (esse) from essence (essentia) as a potency: the
usual definition was that 'form is what gives existence to a
thing' -- forma est quae dat esse rei. Valla's objection was
grammatical. If I ask what (quid) form is, he argued, and you
say that form is what (quae) gives existence, your phrase, quae
dat esse
, supplies no antecedent for the pronoun quae except
forma, the word to be defined. Good Latin would not beg the
question. Better to replace quae with quod, also meaning
'what' or 'which' but implying an antecedent id or illud, giving
'that which' in the form id quod or illud quod, which Valla had
already shown to be equivalent to illa res quae, 'that thing
which'. He had two aims in this elaborate exercise. One was to
expose the metaphysical circle buried in the traditional defini-
tion of form; analysis revealed that 'form is that thing (res)
which gives existence to a thing (res),' suggesting that if form
is a res, and form is what gives existence to res, then form
seems to give existence to itself. Another point was to bring
the discussion back to the word res, the beacon of Valla's
search for clear language and the only transcendental term. 30

Valla reduced the transcendentals to res alone, and he trim-
med the predicaments to three: substance, quality, and action.
Any proposition needs at least two terms, a noun and a verb;
the verb signifies action; the noun signifies qualified rather
than bare substance. On this basis, Valla covered the terms of
any proposition with three predicaments, not ten: substance
and quality for nouns, action for verbs. He maintained that
any object, wood or stone or flesh, consists at least of substance
and quality; at some point the disappearance of quality entails
the disappearance of the object. The word 'man' has more to
do with a complex of human qualities than with simple sub-



Valla ( 1982: ii. 370-1, 381-2); Copleston ( 1960-6: ii. 332-5); below,
Ch. 5, pp. 303-5.


stance. 'Man' falls not under one predicament but several, not
just substance and quality but action as well, for even while
resting any human is always acting. In general, predication
requires the determination of substance and quality always, of
action often, so that a better term for substance is 'consub-
stance'. 31 Valla mentioned consubstantials of three kinds --
soul, body, and the combination of soul and body or animal,
all uniting substance, quality, and action in one res. Valla
knew that Bessarion and other Greek delegates to the Council
of Ferrara and Florence used consubstantialis to describe rela-
tions among the members of the divine trinity. In dealing with
soul as the first species of consubstantials, he began with a
chapter titled "'What is God?'" This was the thirteenth and
pivotal part of the first book of the original Dialectical Dispu-
, preceded by the twelve that ripped the predicaments,
the transcendentals, and other metaphysical planks from the
platform of Latin theology. In this chapter Valla supported the
Greek position on the most crucial theological issue debated at
the Council, the Filioque. This brief Latin term, meaning 'and
from the Son', expressed a Western view of trinitarian theo-
logy, that the Holy Spirit, the third member of the trinity,
proceeded not just from the first member, the Father, but
from the Son as well, the second member. The Greeks resisted
inserting this term in the creed, and Valla supported them. 32

Valla' maintained that 'this whole issue, with which the theo-
logians and philosophers torment themselves in dispute, is one
of words', and he settled the question by substituting his own
scheme of consubstantials for the traditional terminology.
Above all, he objected to the equation of the terms 'person'
(persona) and 'substance' that he found in Boethius; and he
cleared the way for his solution by showing that it was neither
inaccurate nor impious to attribute quality and action as well
as substance to the deity, thus enabling him to describe God as
a res and a consubstance. 33 Careful not to identify the mem-



Valla ( 1982: ii. 401-2).


Ibid. 402-8 ; Southern ( 1970: 61-7); Trinkaus ( 1970: i. 153-5); Di Napoli
( 1971: 148-63); Camporeale ( 1972: 235-76); Geanakoplos ( 1989: 224-54).


Valla ( 1982: ii. 405); Camporeale ( 1972: 235-40).


bers of the trinity with their qualities or actions, he none the
less distinguished three aspects of a single divine consubstance
by the actions and qualities proper to each. Using a metaphor
favored by the Neoplatonists and their Byzantine Christian
heirs, he compared God to the sun, wherein the gleaming light
(vibratus), the emitted light (lux), and the heat (ardor) stand
for Father, Son, and Spirit. The Father's quality is life, power,
and eternity; his action is to gleam, to be seen, and to emit.
The Son is the wisdom that shines. The Spirit is the love that
burns. 'Why should we dissimulate?' asked Valla.

Whence does this heat proceed, from the gleaming only or from the
light as well? Unless my senses deceive me, it seems to proceed from
the gleaming alone. . . . Can I say the same of the Holy Spirit? I
assert nothing but ask that I be permitted only to inquire, like any
common person, since I do not grasp those sharp and ingenious
arguments of the disputing theologians. 34

In fact, from the Latin point of view, it was clear that Valla
had taken the wrong side on one of the most controverted
topics in the history of Christian dogma; worse, as a saboteur
in the great mill of Peripatetic metaphysics that drove Western
theology, he had given the enemy a most insidious comfort.

In later versions of the Dialectical Disputations, after the
Inquisition called him to account, Valla muffled his theological
novelties, but without inhibiting his linguistic creativity. The
chapter 'On the Qualities Known by the Senses' in Book I of
the revised versions shows weakness as well as strength in
Valla's method. Having ridiculed Aristotle's use of alphabetical
signs for variable terms in propositions, he rejected any formal
notation. Yet he badly needed some scheme of symbolism in
this chapter, one of many places where his argument strains
the limits of ordinary Latin prose; as early modern readers met
it on the page, Valla's text lacked devices as basic as the use of
quotation marks to distinguish a word from its referent. To
show that 'res' is a word (vox) that transcends the predica-
ments and 'signifies the meaning or sense of all other words',
he began with distinctions between sound (sonus), word (vox),



Valla ( 1982: ii. 406-7); Camporeale ( 1972: 235-40).


and meaning (significatio), such that sound speaks only to the
ear and meaning only to the mind, while words address mind
and ear alike. If a spoken word (vox) is the image of a
meaning, a written word (litera) is the image of a vox, and
both are terms (vocabula) that represent concepts. A term
spoken or written is also substance, quality, and action -- a res,
in other words. But just as the word 'wood' names wood and
the word 'virtue' names virtue, so the word 'res' names res,
which leaves Valla at the summit of his minimal ontology and
at the edge of his linguistic reach. A few sentences of the
original, given below in the printed text (slightly emended) of
1540, may suggest Valla's dizzying effort to make ordinary
Latin its own metalanguage, without benefit of formalism.
After listing concrete and abstract objects paired with their
names, all related as stone to 'stone' or substance to 'sub-
stance', he concluded that in the same relation

res significant rem; hoc significatur, illud huius est signum; illud non
vox, hoc vox est; ideoque definitur: Res est vox sive vocabulum
omnium vorabulorum significata suo complectens. Ergo vocabulum,
inquies, est supra res quia res vocabulum est etiam. Sed significatum
rei supra significatum vocabuli est, et ideo vocabulum res est et una
res duntaxat. Illa autem vox omnes res significat, quemadmodum
haec vox deus infra multas alias est, nam illam transcendit spiritus,
. . . substantia, . . . essentia, . . . aliquid et res; significationis autem
dignitate cuncta alia transcendit

'res' signifies res; the latter is signified, the former is a sign of the
latter; the one is not a word (vox), the other is a word (vox); hence
the definition: res is a word (vox) or term (vocabulum) embracing the
things meant by all terms in its meaning. 'And so', you say, 'term is
above res, for res is also a term.' But the meaning of 'res' is above the
meaning of 'term', and therefore a term is a res and one res only.
That word (vox) signifies all res, just as this word (vox), 'God,' is
below many others, spirit, . . . substance, . . . essence, . . . some-
and res transcend it, though in the dignity of its meaning it
transcends all others. 35



Valla ( 1962: i. 676-7; 1982: i. 123-4); Waswo ( 1987: 105-8); for the
reading significata suo in the 2nd sentence of the Latin, see Monfasani ( 1989:
310-11 n. 7,318 nn. 38-9); Monfasani's critique of Waswo, Gerl, and Gravelle


The translation shows what Valla missed in the simple conven-
tion of quotation marks, even though he wrote in an inflected
language. His scorn for the jargon of logicians deprived him of
analytical tools that might have aided the reform of philoso-
phical discourse. He believed, however, that formalized argu-
ments lose inferential force when they shed their semantic and
grammatical features.

In any case, Valla did not want to improve philosophy; he
meant to shrink and hold it within the precincts of rhetoric,
the art of language that he found better suited than philosophy
to the evangelical needs of Christianity. His determination that
rhetoric should swallow philosophy becomes clear in the second
and third books of the Dialectical Disputations, which move
beyond the various terms treated in the first book to larger
structures made up of terms -- propositions and arguments. In
dealing with the broad issue of argumentation, Peripatetics
assigned demonstrative reasoning to logic, leaving rhetoric the
more elusive task of persuasion. Following Quintilian and
Cicero, however, Valla discussed two kinds of demonstration,
necessary and probable, allotting both types to rhetoric but
limiting logic to necessary demonstration. Valla's rhetoric is
broader than his logic. Scholastics divided dialectic from rhe-
toric, but Valla united them by subordinating the former to
the latter. He took his cue from the standard division of
rhetoric into five parts, the first of which is invention, the
techniques used by the orator to find (invenire) his material.
'What else is dialectic', asked Valla, 'but a kind of affirmation
and refutation? These are parts of invention, . . . one of the
five parts of rhetoric. . . . The dialectician uses the syllogism
naked, so to speak, but the orator uses it clothed, armed and
adorned.' To establish the orator's mastery of demonstration
as well as persuasion, Valla used his second book to eliminate
what he took to be abuses in the scholastic analysis of proposi-
tions, clearing the way for a rhetorical theory of argument in
his third book. Book two deals with the internal structure of



in this issue of the Journal of the History of Ideas is followed by replies from
Waswo and Gravelle; see also Trinkaus ( 1988b).


the proposition, especially negation, modality, and syncatego-
remata (see below). In general, Valla wanted his proposi-
tions pruned of solecism and needless abstraction, and he tried
to simplify their construction by cutting the theoretical inven-
tory, as when he reduced the modes of propositions, tradi-
tionally six, to three or four: true, possible, impossible, and
(perhaps) credible. 36

The subject of the third book of the Dialectical Disputations
is argument in its two varieties, both seen as belonging to
rhetoric: necessary or demonstrative (apodictic) argument in
syllogistic form; and probable argument in the form of induc-
tion and epicheireme (see below). Valla retained more of
Aristotle's logic than of its Peripatetic derivatives, and he
made Boethius his primary opponent; but his main inspiration
was Quintilian, from whom he took long passages verbatim.
Boethius described induction as argument moving from par-
ticulars to universals, but Valla denied that enumeration of
contingent particulars could ever conclude in a necessary and
universal proposition. Inductive inference, or argument from
examples, always involves comparison of similar terms, an
analogical process that can lead only to probable conclusions.
But plausible conclusions can also be the product of rhetorical
deductive inference -- in Valla's terminology an epicheireme
(more fully, epicheirematis enthymema), a rhetorical syllogism
with a probable conclusion, in contrast to the necessary con-
clusion of an apodictic syllogism. The terminology is important
but confusing, because Aristotle too had recognized the rhe-
torical syllogism along with rhetorical induction, but he called
the latter a paradigm and the former an enthymeme. Enthy-
meme (syllogismi enthymema), however, was Valla's term for
an elliptical apodictic argument, a demonstrative syllogism with
one or more of its parts missing. 37

Besides shifting the major types of argument from Aristotle's
taxonomy to Quintilian's, Valla also extended his minimalist
programme for terms and propositions to the syllogism itself.



Valla ( 1982: ii. 447); below, n. 38.


Di Napoli ( 1971: 89-99); Camporeale ( 1972: 35-75, 82-5); G. A. Kennedy
( 1980: 70-2, 76, 80-4).


The Peripatetic syllogism was a deductive inference from two
(major and minor) propositions or premisses, expressing class
membership or predication, to a third proposition, called the
conclusion, also expressing class membership or predication,
as follows:

Every B belongs to C.
Every C belongs to D.
Therefore, every B belongs to D.

B, C and D represent variable terms which as independent
expressions fall under the ten categories; terms like 'every',
'no', or 'some' are syncategorematic rather than categorical
because they express relations between such terms. A cate-
gorical proposition asserts some relation between categorical
terms by means of syncategorematic modifiers and a copula
such as 'belongs to', 'is predicated of', or simply 'is'. 38 Thus, in
contrast to the logic of propositions commonly taught today or
the logic of topics promoted in the sixteenth century, Valla
was faced with a logic of class terms, which he wished to make
a better oratorical tool. Even though the contexts for oratory --
the courtroom, the church, the political forum -- would seldom
encourage close attention to rigorous reasoning, Valla needed
to bring the syllogism within the scope of rhetoric in order to
liberate epistemic terrain from philosophy, which as mistress
of logic guarded the gateway to the arts curriculum.

Most students in Valla's day still learned logic from Peter of Spain's
Summulae logicales, the first six parts of which deal
with issues directly derived from Aristotle Organon. One
part is syllogistic, organized according to the role of the middle
term (C in the example above) as subject or predicate in the
major and minor premisses and yielding four possible figures,
of which Aristotle allowed only three. Each figure can be
further divided into moods according to the character of its
propositions as universal and positive (symbolized by the letter
A), universal and negative (E), particular and positive (I), or
particular and negative (O). Then, in the first word of a famous



Kneale and Kneale ( 1962: 67-81, 233-4); Noreña ( 1975: 6-12); Kretzmann
( 1982: 211-16); Spade ( 1982: 188-92); Broadie ( 1987: 3-17, 124-6).


mnemonic verse that originated in the thirteenth century, one
finds the name of the first mood of the first figure, Barbara,
designating a syllogism all of whose are universal
affirmatives (A) whose middle term is the subject in the
major premiss but the predicate in the minor. By the same
process, Celarent becomes the name of the second mood of
the first figure, Darii of the third mood, and so on through
fourteen moods for the three usual figures -- nineteen if one
includes the disputed fourth figure. These names helped stu-
dents memorize the valid patterns of the syllogism, so that a
student who remembered Cesare, the first mood of the second
figure, knew that a syllogism of the following type is valid:

No B belongs to C.
Every D belongs to C.
Therefore, no D belongs B.

Memory was important to the student who had to master Peter of Spain's
Summulae, because the complexities of syllogistic
were only one topic in the easier part of this widely used
textbook, which became harder in its seventh section, the
Little Logicals, on meaning, reference, quantification, and
other subjects not extensively covered by Aristotle. 39

Valla, always aiming to disarm the philosopher and equip
the orator with a leaner logic, proposed to reduce the nineteen
moods of the syllogism to eight. His rejection of the fourth
figure is unsurprising, but he also condemned the whole third
figure, which always leads to a particular conclusion (I or O)
about an indefinite subject. He found this figure opposed to
the natural order of speech and useless for rhetorical purposes:
what good would it do a lawyer to argue so awkwardly that
some particular person is guilty or not guilty? Since even the
Peripatetics recognized the convertibility of the third figure to
the first, Valla saw no reason to preserve a redundant mon-
strosity that moved him to one of his purpler passages: 'No
man is a stone; some man is an animal; therefore, some animal
is not a stone. I can hardly keep myself from screaming,' he
screamed; 'O you family of Peripatetics, in love with trifles!



Kneale and Kneale ( 1962: 54-7, 68-76, 232-3).


Have you ever heard anyone arguing like this, you nation of
madmen?' 40 Although he gave much attention to apodictic
argument, he distrusted the whole tradition of categorical
syllogistic because of its artificiality and formalism. He also
attacked hypothetical or conditional syllogisms, on which the
hated Boethius had written a treatise, as an unnatural restric-
tion on the many linguistic means of expressing conditionality,
and he was equally suspicious of the a priori study of fallacies
when the, syntax and grammar of natural language afforded so
many ways to go wrong. As always, customary usage learned
from ancient texts was Valla's criterion for judging these
medieval theories of argument, which fell far short of his
humanist expectations. Language for Valla was culture, which
always eludes any generalized prescriptions, just as the orator's
need will always surpass the rules of argument meant to help

The simple method of Peter Ramus and its forerunners

Perhaps it was Valla's philosophical depth that limited his
Dialectical Disputations to six appearances in print after 1496,
when three much more teachable treatments of dialectic --
George of Trebizond Isagoge, Rudolf Agricola Dialectical
Invention, and the various works of Peter Ramus -- ended Peter
of Spain's long reign over the arts curriculum. Until the end of
the third decade of the sixteenth century, Peter Summulae

remained hugely successful, but after 1530 only half a dozen
printings were called for. So sharp a decline for so popular a
book is hard to explain, but it coincided with the growing suc-
cess of Agricola's treatise. In 1529 Johann Sturm introduced
Agricola to the University of Paris, whose first year students
had been called 'Summulists' from the textbook that filled
their days with suppositions and ampliations. Agricola had
written his Dialectical Invention in 1479, six years before he
died, but it was published only in 1515. In five years after



Valla ( 1962: ii. 739).


1538, fifteen of roughly seventy. Renaissance editions appeared
in Paris alone; Agricola's readership came from both Catholic
and Protestant regions, mainly in northern Europe. Born in
1444 and educated in Erfurt, Louvain, and Cologne, Agricola
travelled in the late 1460s to Italy to study with Battista
Guarino in Ferrara, where he acquired the humanist zeal for
persuasive speech and writing. Erasmus, the great champion
of classical eloquence in Northern Europe, would later stress
his intellectual descent from the Greek teacher, Alexander
Hegius, who learned from Agricola, who came to represent
the legitimating link between the previously barbarous North
and the cultured South. As advocate of the humanist pro-
gramme in education, Agricola treated dialectic as an instru-
ment of communication rather than as a device for formal
proof, and he cared more for the needs of students than for
the queries of logic professors. Techniques of persuasion and
probability were less rigorous in the ordinary logical sense
than demonstration, but Agricola and other humanist teachers
of logic could easily show that the critical verbal transactions
of everyday life are seldom given to apodictic treatment. In-
fluenced by the composition exercises of Aphthonius of Antioch
and other ancient sources, Agricola provided graded exercises
for oratorical education through repeated working of examples.
His recipes for methodical pedagogy were so convincing that
the discipline and rigour claimed for his teaching techniques
became self-justifying -- a new kind of rigour to please critics of
the scholastic curriculum. Agricola's advice appealed to people
like Lefèvre, Vives, Erasmus, or Rabelais who despaired of
late medieval logic as a way of teaching or talking or reason-
ing. Because Agricola made a hit with the same Erasmian
humanists who appreciated Valla, scholars have often assumed
a strong link between the two. Though only a few manuscripts
of the Dialectical Disputations circulated in Agricola's lifetime,
he may well have read Valla, yet the differences between them
were great. Valla made apodictic proof part of an expanded
rhetoric; Agricola reduced rhetoric to stylistics and ignored
rigorous demonstration. Valla reproduced Quintilian's remarks
on the topics, adding nothing important of his own; Agricola


put his own version of the topics at the centre of a dialectic
meant to contain all discourse. 41

Having laid out his twenty-four topics in the first book of his
Dialectical Invention, Agricola defined dialectic at the start of
the second book as 'the art of speaking with probability on any
question whatever'. 42 Following a well-established tradition,
he divided dialectic into invention for finding the places and
judgement for putting arguments in good order by syllogistic
and other means; he focused on invention, however, leaving a
gap filled first by George of Trebizond Isagoge and later by
the Ramist theory of judgement. Although Cicero and Boe-
thius had inspired a tradition of logical topics and invention,
invention had always belonged primarily to rhetoric, but Agri-
cola claimed it for his version of dialectic, teaching that rhetoric
only embellishes arguments found by dialectic. Dialectic con-
trols all features of language except style, and speaks to any
problem: the effect of these sweeping claims was to erase the
usual distinction between persuasion and proof. Agricola never
really confronted problems of demonstrative inference, but he
believed that his probable arguments could induce a certitude
that we might call psychological rather than logical. His logic
has been described aptly as a place or topical logic because it
replaced the predicaments or categories with topics that seemed
more effective instruments of speech. In the strictest sense, the
work of Agricolan invention is to find a middle term (R) to
join the extremes (H, W) in a Peripatetic syllogism. If I need
to persuade my audience or my students that every human
(H) is a worrier (W), I must look in the right place for
the middle term, rational being (R), that will enable me to say
with conviction that



Ashworth ( 1974: 2-4, 10-14; 1988: 143-6, 152-3); Monfasani ( 1990).
For the Latin works, see Agricola ( 1703; 1967); and for secondary works see
Allen ( 1906); van der Velden ( 1911); Faust ( 1922); Vasoli ( 1958b; 1968a: 147-
82); Nauwelaerts ( 1963); Spitz ( 1963: 20-40); Heath ( 1971); Jardine ( 1974a:
29-35; 1988: 181-4; 1990); Kessler ( 1979); Weiss ( 1981); Mack ( 1983; 1985);
Ong ( 1983: 58, 92-130); Cogan ( 1984); Grafton and Jardine ( 1986: 122-37);
Akkerman and Vanderjagt ( 1988).


Agricola ( 1967: 192); Ong ( 1983: 101).


Every H is an R.
Every R is a W.
Therefore, every H is a W.

Riffling through my topical checklist, I soon come to places
like definition, genus, and species to remind me that human
animals are rational and that reason is a worry. Agricola
thought of these and other places -- property, time, name,
similarity, and so on -- as little boxes or chests holding a trea-
sury of persuasive instruments ready for handy insertion into
arguments. His places were a scheme for inquiry into all par-
ticulars. He made invention encyclopedic, a method for asking
questions about whatever may be found in the universe of
specifics. Images involving location had always been part of
the idea of topics, but Agricola's place logic happened to
coincide with the new age of printing, when visual representa-
tions of abstract relations as structures in space could be re-
produced more accurately and disseminated more widely than
ever before. The Ramist obsession with tables and charts as
dialectical maps had its origins in this coincidence. Ramists
made these visual aids ubiquitous, but they did not invent
them. Medieval manuscripts often presented their contents
schematically; Lefèvre's crudely printed texts of the 1490s used
charts to ease the strain of introductory logic; and in 1530
Bartholemew Latomus published one of the first examples --
reproduced in Fig. 4 as a useful conspectus of place logic -- in
the direct Agricolan-Ramist line of ramifying charts. 43

Petrus Ramus or Pierre de la Ramée was born in Picardy in
1515. 44 At the age of twelve or so he left an unhappy boyhood



Ong ( 1983: 63-5, 74-91, 96-8, 104-112, 116-30); Jardine ( 1974a:
30-4); Cogan ( 1984: 163-7, 181-94).


For the several hundred early modern edns. of the main Ramist works,
see Ong ( 1958) as well as the summary in Ong ( 1983: 295-306); Ramus
( 1964a; 1970) and Ramus and Talon ( 1971) are reprints of 16th-c. edns.;
Ramus ( 1986) is a modern version. Ong ( 1983) remains the standard work,
corrected in some respects by such recent studies as Bruyère ( 1984) and
Meerhoff ( 1986); see also Waddington ( 1855); Rossi ( 1953c); Hooykaas ( 1958);
Gilbert ( 1960: 129-63); Risse ( 1964); Vasoli ( 1968a: 331-601); Walton ( 1970;
1971); Schmitt ( 1972a: 78-108); Cassirer ( 1974: i. 130-6); Jardine ( 1974a;
1988: 184-90); Ashworth ( 1974: 15-17); Sharratt ( 1975; 1976: 4-20; 1982;
1987); Margolin ( 1976b); Piano Mortari ( 1978); Schmidt-Biggemann ( 1983);
Grafton and Jardine ( 1986: 161-200); Pierre de la Ramée ( 1986).



FIG. 4. A table dividing the places.



to begin a hard university life in Paris. He disliked the scholas-
tic regimen but did well at it, proceeding to his MA in 1536,
seven years after Sturm had given Paris not only Agricola but
also Hermogenes, a more distant ancestor of logic by topical
division. Years later, after Ramus died a Protestant martyr in
the St Bartholemew's massacre of 1572, his religious and intel-
lectual fame attracted biographers, who in the spirit of the
times depicted him as a dauntless anti-Aristotelian. The story
went round that he won his MA with the thesis that 'Whatever
has been said by Aristotle is arbitrarily contrived'
, but, even if
true, the tale tells little about Ramus' character or ideas.
Defending a thesis was not a strict degree requirement, and
weirder claims than Ramus allegedly made had been normal in
the quodlibetal and sophistical literature for centuries. 45 In any
event, as a new master the young Ramus was faced with
teaching the same pack of logic-dazed adolescents from which
he had just escaped. This hard fact of his employment, in the
context of the new Agricolan dialectic, seems to have motivated
his two brash publications of 1543, the Divisions of Dialectic
and the Remarks on Aristotle, in which he denounced the arts
curriculum and enraged his faculty colleagues. Within a year
Francis I quashed the two books from the throne, warning
Ramus not to teach philosophy without royal assent. Shifting
his teaching to mathematics, he went briefly underground as a
writer, issuing an update of the Divisions of Dialectic in 1546
under the name of Omer Talon, his long-time collaborator.

When Francis I died in 1547, Charles of Lorraine, the Guise
cardinal, convinced the new king, Henry II, to forgive Ramus,
who responded gratefully with a flood of book dedications.
Now favoured at court, he rose to the first and only regius chair
of eloquence and philosophy at the Collège Royal in 1551, and
for most of the next twenty years his quarrelsome habits did
no great harm to a brilliant career. His friend Talon became a
priest before he died in 1562, but Ramus, who was never a
cleric, was suspected of Protestant sympathies by this time,



Ong ( 1983: 36-47).


though he gave no overt sign of his new religion until 1570. A
Commentary on the Christian Religion
published after his death
reveals a Reformed faith of Zwingli's type, which alienated
previous Catholic associates, while Protestants disliked his
opinions on church government. Still, his murder in 1572 seems
to have been accidental; Catherine de' Medici had wanted to
shield him from the marauding mobs that she loosed on St
Bartholemew's Day. His glory came from his books, but his
teaching also won him acclaim; students came in herds to hear
him thunder theatrically against the conventional texts taught
by their conventional professors. People found him charming
and liked his smile, though he was known to abuse students
physically. Angry critics -- Jacques Charpentier, Antonio de
Gouveia, Joachim Périon, Adrien Turnebus, Jacob Schegk --
abused him verbally for aberrant beliefs, but he turned their
wrath against them by constantly revising his books to meet
every shift in the tide of hostile opinion. His famous position
on method, in particular, grew out of a response to Gouveia,
who seems to have spotted the Ramist method before Ramus
himself. 46

His brief Remarks on Aristotle tore destructively through the
Organon. Plato stood at the pinnacle of ancient dialectic, he
claimed, but Aristotle fell and the Peripatetics sank lower in
the mire of barbarism. Ramus proposed to rescue the arts of
discourse by abandoning Aristotle's logic in favour of the one,
true omnicompetent union of rhetoric (for style) and dialectic
(for all other needs of discourse): 'to any fields or limits what-
ever of disputation . . . , to any subject you like, treated in any
manner you choose, one and the same alliance of rhetoric and
dialectic applies.' Ramus repeated his anti-Aristotelian pro-
gramme in the Divisions of Dialectic and in the nearly identical
Dialectical Education also published in 1543. He looked at
dialectic from three points of view: as a natural human endow-
ment, as an art that must be taught, and as a skill requiring
practice. People are born with a natural dialectic that enables
them to talk, argue, make distinctions, and reason together;



Ibid. 16-35, 214-24.




the power common to all these innate faculties is one of
discrimination or discernment. Art must assist nature if dialec-
tical ability is to reach its full development. 47

Like Agricola, Ramus divided the art of dialectic into inven-
tion and judgement, but he had little new to say about inven-
tion or places. Judgement, which Agricola had slighted, he
described as a way of fitting together what invention has found
in order to compare and evaluate. Judgement proceeds through
three stages: first, arrange the findings of invention in proposi-
tions and syllogistic arguments; second, construct larger chains
of argument by definition and division; third, rise to divinity
through the grades of dialectic. Ramus wanted a dialectic well-
suited to the classroom in its simplicity and clarity. He crusaded
against ambiguity, believing that division, reduction, and sum-
mary are the essentials of reasoned speech; all else is decora-
tion. 'The foundations of the arts', he wrote in the Remarks on
, 'are definitions, divisions or certain sure inferences
from definitions and divisions; there is nothing else.' By the
time he was ready to release his French Dialectique in 1555,
Ramus had moved the fundamentals of definition and division
to invention; first and second judgement had acquired grander
labels, 'dianoetic' and 'axiomatic'; and the whole process of
judgement had evolved into disposition or arrangement, the
framework of the Ramist method. 48

Largely because Ramism sparked intense controversy and
flourished in spite of it, method was a familiar issue when
Bacon and Descartes made so much of it in the next century.
But philosophers had worried about method long before
Ramus, who loved to display his own knowledge of ancient
opinion on the question. Perhaps the most fruitful text was the
section of Plato Phaedrus in which Socrates clarifies the
methodos of dialectic -- division (diairesis) and collection
(sunagôgê) -- by comparing it to the useful and purposefully
acquired technê (ars in Latin) of a Hippocratic physician. Aristotle's
treatise on Methodics did not survive; nor did his com-



Ramus ( 1964a: fo. 78); Ong ( 1983: 171-95, esp. 175).


Ramus ( 1964a: fo. 58r); Jardine ( 1974a: 42-5); Ong ( 1983: 187-9, 250-


ments in the Posterior Analytics and Topics on apodictic and
persuasive technique satisfy Renaissance thinkers, who felt the
lack of an authoritative Peripatetic statement on method. The
Stoic revival called attention to Zeno's definition of an art as
an ordered set of katalêpseis, 'graspings' or 'cognitions'; al-
though Cicero correctly rendered Zeno's Greek as perceptiones
or 'percepts', praeceptiones or 'precepts' emerged in medieval
texts, which thus encouraged a conception of method as a
body or rules. Given the striking Socratic analogy between
dialectic and medicine, Galen devoted a special treatise to
Hippocratic and Platonic views on the matter, in which he
suggested that any investigation should start with larger and
easier problems; here, and in other works, his comments on
clarity, analysis, resolution, and composition proved influential
for early modern readers, though their effect was somewhat
dampened by Galen's diffuse prose. Roman writers seldom
used the Latin methodus;. Cicero preferred ratio ('system'), but
Quintilian once wrote methodice to mean something like 'cor-
rect technique. Boethius added methodus to the Latin philo-
sophical lexicon when translating Aristotle Topics,' and the
word commonly stood for its Greek analogue in the medieval
Latin Aristotle, until Bruni and other purists resorted to in-
genious circumlocutions to purge the sin of transliteration.
John of Salisbury, Albertus Magnus, and other medieval
authorities had seen method as a way of bringing scattered
materials together in some brief expression, a compendium,
and, despite Socratic warnings to the contrary, Agostino Nifo
and other early modern philosophers were still looking for
short cuts when they hunted for a method. 49

Before Ramus, the words bearing on the understanding of
method that medieval and early modern readers were most
likely to see appeared in the memorable (though partly spuri-
ous) first sentence of Peter of Spain's Summulae:

Dialectic is the art [ars] of arts and the knowledge [scientia] of



Plato, Phaedrus 270B-E; Cicero, Academica 2. 30 -1; Quintilian, Ora-
torical Education
1. 9. 1; Galen, On the Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato
9.1-7; Gilbert ( 1960: pp. xxii-xxiii, 6, 3 - 66 ); Jardine ( 1974a: 29 - 58 ); Long
and Sedley ( 1987: ii. 251 -2).


branches-of-knowledge [scientiae], and it holds, [habere] the way [via]
to the foundations of all methods [methodi]. For dialectic alone dis-
putes with probability [probabiliter] about the foundations of all other
arts; hence, dialectic ought to come first in acquiring knowledge

Here, in the first verse of this bible of medieval logic, Ramus
clearly had precedent for putting dialectic at the centre of
discourse and for blurring the line between probable and de-
monstrative argument. He and his early modern predecessors
-- Sturm, Melanchthon, and others--also had reason to be
confused by the jumbled relations among ars, scientia, and
methodus suggested in this classic statement. 50 One perplexed
observer of method was Antonio de Gouveia, an early critic of
Ramus, who in his Reply on behalf of Aristotle to the Calumnies
of Peter Ramus
( 1543) sensed that the 'second judgement' of
the Dialectical Education had something to do with method.
Gouveia referred Ramus to Galen, and Ramus answered in
1546--while still under the king's ban--with a revised and
pseudonymous edition of the Institutiones which presents
Ramist method in its earliest form. He defined method as
arrangement (dispositio) either of teaching (doctrina) or of
prudence, but then he discarded prudence as incoherent em-
pirical experience of things, people, and events, leaving only
the method of teaching for orderly disposition. Methodical
arrangement is always the same: 'one needs only method and a
sure way (via) of disposition', he asserted, 'which teaching
(doctrina) shows us to be the one simple way of putting uni-
versal and general things first, specific and secondary things
afterward.' 51

Up until a final revision in 1572, Ramus continued to amplify
his method with new rules and embellish it with the ginger-
bread of erudition, but the 1546Institutiones had captured his
programme in its stark triviality. Indeed, on one side of a leaf



Peter of Spain ( 1972: 1 [with readings from De Rijk's apparatus]); Ong
( 1983: 53 - 63, 156 -63, 182 ).


Ramus, Dialectici commentarii tres authore Audomardo Talaeo editi
( 1546), pp. 83 -4, cited at length in Ong ( 1983: 245 -6, 363 -4; see also 214 -


at the end of the earlier 1543 version he had printed a tabular
summary of the whole of dialectic that foreshadows the multi-
tude of bifurcating tables to come and announces his compul-
sion for the quick, teachable answer to all questions. 52 Ramus
ruthlessly domesticated the classical curriculum as conceived
by Bruni and Vives. Older humanists had moral and intellec-
tual aspirations, but he wanted results in the classroom, where
philology and philosophy took a back seat to curricular prag-
matism. Ramist teachers aimed to make their students com-
petent citizens and capable workers, not better people. They
trimmed excess information about language, history, and
philosophy from the commentaries that they ransacked, and
they reduced the remainder to a tight package of imitable
models, memorable facts, stirring examples, and sleek sen-
tences. Students read the classics not so much for their own
value or even for moral application but as instances of dialectic,
an expedient and austere procedure with great attractions:
Ramism gave students orderly habits of thought, and it gave
teachers easy patterns of instruction. If discourse could do so
much, what need to claim the ethical benefits that seemed so
remote from the actual effects of classicism? Tedious drill and
practice promised to put more bread on the table than odiously
sterile philology. In declaring his new method supreme, Ramus
repudiated the scriptures of oratorical moralism. Citing Quin-
tilian's famous definitions, he denied that the complete orator
must be

a good man skilled in speaking, [equipped with such] . . . virtues of
mind as justice, fortitude, temperance, prudence -- likewise the whole
of philosophy, knowledge of law and understanding of history. . . . I
claim that such a definition of the orator seems defective. Why?
Because the definition of any practitioner [artifex] is excessive if it in-
cludes more than the practice [ars] contains in its principles . . ., [and]
rhetoric is not a practice [ars] that develops all the virtues of mind . . .
[about which] moralists philosophize (ethici philosophantur). 53

Ramus the Pedagogue vanquished Quintilian the Orator as



Ramus ( 1964a: fo. 57r).


Quintilian, Oratorical Education 1.pr. 5 - 20, 12.1.1; Ramus ( 1970: 319 -
20 [sig. 02v]); Grafton and Jardine ( 1986: 161 - 200, esp. 192 ).


well as Aristotle the Philosopher; on his battle-flag he might
have written that to conquer is to divide by two.

Under the title 'dialectic', which humanists preferred to
'logic', his books sold well in Latin, and they also won a good
response in English and French. It was not his originality but
his genius for layout and organization that put Ramus on top
of the textbook market, master of the most popular method
for conveying complex information to beginners. His books on
dialectic presented the method as applicable to all fields of
learning, while other works extended his ideas to specific sub-
jects, particularly mathematics, where the influence of his
technique was strong. It was above all the dichotomous tables,
frequently seen in the earlier age of manuscripts and favoured
by medical authors who published before Ramus, that he made
his hallmark and raised to new levels of popularity. By the end
of the sixteenth century, whole books on ethics, politics, and
other topics, hundreds of pages long, consisted wholly of such
tables. Academic books, especially those meant for classroom
use, routinely appeared as blocks of ordinary prose linked
every few pages by a summary and a table, condensing the
intervening material into skeletal form, short and easy to re-
member. The point of this apparatus was to reduce the stu-
dent's confusion and ease his labour. As a beginner in natural
philosophy, for example, the student could divide nature into
organic beings with vital souls and inorganic entities without
souls, and organic beings could be further separated into irra-
plants and animals and rational humans, and so on. The
resulting synoptic scheme may be too trivial for the modern
eye to notice, but in its own time it was a pedagogic marvel
that many found more useful than traditional syllogistic rea-
soning. The Ramist method took over quickly in many areas,
including the classrooms of Peripatetic professors, whose text-
books were often crammed with tables and diagrams. The
glaringly visible Ramist method was perhaps the most obvious
way in which the humanist revolution in persuasive and ex-
pository reasoning took hold in all spheres of intellectual life.
Logic remained for the most part Aristotelian, and the Organon
was still the bedrock text, but few new teaching manuals of


any kind were without humanist colouration of some kind. 54
Logic became a softer and maybe a duller tool than it had
been in the Middle Ages, but the humanists also made it more
flexible and adaptable to the whole range of discourse. Medi-
eval logic had been best suited to medicine and natural
philosophy, and after the Renaissance an improved mathema-
tics would become the language of a new natural science. In
the mean time, in the age of Valla, Trapezuntius, Agricola,
and Ramus, logic served the interests of language as interpreted
by humanism.

The crisis of doubt

In the prologue to his Quart Livre, Rabelais tells the story of
Couillatris, a poor woodcutter who lost his axe and, 'because
necessity invented eloquence', prayed loudly to Jupiter to re-
store it. The great god, interrupted in council by this puny plea
while resolving the quarrels of the mighty, lists all the disputes
he has settled until he reaches one that has him stumped.
'What shall we make of this Rameau and this Galland? Backed
by their gophers, groupies, and yes-men, they throw the Aca-
demy of Paris into confusion. I'm greatly perplexed and haven't
yet decided whose part to take. Both seem good ballsy fellows
in their ways.' Jove's adviser, Priapus, recommends turning
the pair into stone gargoyles for the porch of Notre-Dame,
where passers-by can snuff torches and candles on them: the
punishment fits the crime because, in their ardour for fame,
they had 'lit the fire of faction . . . and division among the idle
scholars'. Pierre Galland published his Oration for the School
of Paris against the New Academy of Peter Ramus
in 1551, the
year before the Quart Livre appeared, the same year when
Henri II restored Ramus to his academic dignities. 55 Galland's
attack on Ramus was a hot story at the time, perfect material
for Rabelais, but a closer look will show that the real advocate
of the 'New Academy' in Galland's title was not Ramus but



Schmitt ( 1983a: 53 - 63, 121 -33; 1988: 795-804); above, Ch. 1, n. 26.


Rabelais ( 1973: 571-5); Screech ( 1979: 321 -32).


Omer Talon. Except that he liked the style of Cicero
Academica, Ramus had little to say about Academic scepticism,
but in 1547 and 1550 Talon had published one of the first and
best Renaissance editions of the Academica accompanied by
commentary and introduction. With Cicero as his guide, Talon
showed how philosophy can join forces with eloquence to
route credulity and dogmatism, especially doctrinaire Aris-
totelianism. Galland feared Talon's scepticism as subversive of
tradition and authority, and he denounced it as incompatible
with Christianity. In 1557 the Dialogues against the New Aca-
of Guy de Brués made roughly the same case in the
vernacular. Montaigne read the Dialogues. But Montaigne
also read Latin translations of Sextus Empiricus unavailable to
Talon and his critics: the Outlines of Pyrrhonism, published by
Henri Estienne in 1562, and Against the Mathematicians, issued
by Gentian Hervet in 1569. Estienne apparently lacked the wit
to look into the Pandora's box that he opened; he had no
inkling that the ideas he let loose would haunt philosophers
for centuries. Hervet, a humanist like Etienne, knew better
what he was about. He was a Catholic spokesman for the
church's Counter-Reformation programme who wanted to use
Sextus against the Huguenots, convinced as he was that their
beliefs were more vulnerable than his own to sceptical anti-
dogmatism. 56

The printing of Sextus in the 1560s opened a new era in the
history of scepticism, which had begun in the late fourth cen-
tury BCE with the teachings of Pyrrho of Elis. Pyrrho wrote
nothing, but his ideas were revived in the first century BCE
by Aenesidemus, who was also influenced by the sceptical
New Academy that began with Arcesilaus in the early third
century and culminated with Carneades in the late first century.
Before Antiochus of Ascalon took Plato's School back to the
dogmatism of the Old Academy, Cicero read the works of
Clitomachus, who succeeded Carneades as head of the Aca-
demy, and studied with Philo of Larissa, who followed Clito-



Schmitt ( 1972a: 81 - 108 ; 1972b: 371 -4, 380 ; 1989: chs. 13, 14); Cavini
( 1977); Grafton ( 1988b: 790); Popkin ( 1979: 18 - 34 ; 1988: 679-81).


machus; these experiences underlie the Academica, De natura
, and other works in which Cicero deals with Academic
scepticism. Later, in the second century CE, the physician
Sextus used Pyrrhonian scepticism as passed on by Aenesi-
demus to blast medical and other dogmas of his day, shortly
before Diogenes Laertius included a section on Pyrrho in his
Lives. These works of Cicero, Diogenes, and Sextus preserve
most of the surviving evidence on ancient scepticism, but they
were little known before the Renaissance. William of Ockham
and other fourteenth-century thinkers refuted intellectual cer-
tainties of various kinds, but their doubts seem to have had no
connection with ancient scepticism. Even the word 'sceptic'
was absent from the medieval vocabulary. Until Francesco
Filelfo brought Greek manuscripts of Sextus from Constan-
tinople in 1427, the only Latin text was a fourteenth-century
version of the Outlines that survives in just three manuscripts;
two partial Latin translations followed in the fifteenth century
but attracted little interest. Fifteenth-century scholars read the
new documents philologically rather than philosophically,
focusing on new Greek words in the texts but caring little for
the larger import of their meanings. Before the Estienne and
Hervet versions, Sextus seems to have had only two serious
students, Gianfrancesco Pico at the turn of the century and
Francesco Robortello about fifty years later. By Pico's time,
Traversari's translation of Diogenes from the 1430s circulated
widely, though Diogenes had been at best a rarity when Walter
Burley seems to have used him early in the previous century.
Traversari's Latin was helpful -- it seems to have put the word
scepticus into circulation -- but it was no substitute for the fuller
story told by Sextus. 57

Cicero Academica were likewise no match for Sextus, but
they represented a distinct tradition in scepticism, a negative
dogmatism. Strictly speaking, Academics rule out the possibility
of certain knowledge, while Pyrrhonists can neither affirm nor
deny that certainty is possible, professing an undogmatic scep-



Schmitt ( 1967; 1972a: 9 - 13 ; 1972b: 363 -8, 375 -9); Cassirer ( 1974: i.
172 - 220 ); Popkin ( 1979: pp. xiv -xvii); Popkin and Schmitt ( 1987); Burnyeat
( 1983); Long ( 1986: 75 - 80, 88 - 95, 106, 222 -4, 229 -31).


ticism that doubts sceptical judgement itself. 58 Cicero had
enormous influence in the Middle Ages, yet his Academica
were not widely read; medieval readers knew Ciceronian scep-
ticism mainly as refuted by Augustine in his early work,
Against the Academics, and as used by Lactantius against
philosophical dogmatism. John of Salisbury and Henry of
Ghent were uncommon medieval students of Academic scep-
ticism, but after Petrarch listed. the Academica among his
favourite books in the 1330s, they found more readers: Salutati,
Guarino, Poggio, Ficino, and others. As compared to most of
Cicero, however, the Academica remained unpopular in the
Renaissance, perhaps because the spectacle of Cicero's taking
on all the major schools -- Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, and
Epicurean -- made readers uneasy and gave offence everywhere.
Cicero's philosophical works, including the Academica, ap-
peared in a printed collection in 1471, but no separate text
came out until 1535, no commentary until 1536. The Academica
had their heyday in the middle decades of the sixteenth cen-
tury, before Sextus became available, and in northern Europe
rather than Italy. When Galland attacked Ramus in 1551, it
was the charged atmosphere of the Reformation that led Gal-
land to distrust scepticism as a menace to religious dogma. The
faithful had been divided on scepticism since Augustine, who
feared it as an irreligious threat to Christian certitude, and
Lactantius, who praised it as a pious weapon against heathen
philosophy. 59

These divisions continued during the Reformation, when
scepticism was the furthest thing from atheism. Its typical use
was on behalf of faith, particularly by Catholics, although
friends and enemies of scepticism were to be found in both
confessional camps. When he published his Praise of Folly in
1511, Erasmus had kind words for the 'Academics, . . . least
impudent of the philosophers, . . . [who say] that nothing can
be clearly known'. But in his battle with Luther over free will
in the 1520s, he blanched at being called an Epicurean, an



Popkin ( 1979: xiii -xv, 47 ); cf. Schmitt ( 1972a: 7 - 8 ).


Schmitt ( 1972a: 14 - 19, 23 - 66 ); Popkin ( 1979: 23 - 33 ).


atheist, and a sceptic. The core issue in these Reformation
debates was the criterion of religious belief, the 'rule of faith'
shaken by Luther when he challenged Roman Catholic hier-
archy and tradition with his canon of sola Scriptura: true reli-
gious conviction emerges only when the reading of scripture
forces one to hold some article of faith. Although faith is an
act of individual conscience, Luther insisted against Erasmus
that it must be certain. When Erasmus longed for 'an undog-
matic temper', Luther despised him as faint-hearted. 'Away,
now, with Sceptics and Academics from the company of us
Christians,' he wrote in 1525; 'let us have men . . . twice as
inflexible as very Stoics! . . . Nothing is more . . . characteristic
among Christians than assertion. Take away assertions, and
you take away Christianity.' In the next decade, Erasmus
criticized Melanchthon Common Places for too broad a ban
on Academic suspension of judgement, and in successive edi-
tions of the Loci communes Melanchthon retreated, eventually
permitting epochê (suspension of judgement) in philosophy
but forbidding it in church doctrine, where faith has no need
of philosophy. In 1553 John Calvin and his followers gave
horrible witness to their theological certainty by burning
Michael Servetus at the gates of Geneva for doubting the
trinity. Sebastian Castellio, himself a Protestant, answered in
1554 with his treatise On Heretics, Whether They Should Be
, followed by an unpublished work of 1561 On the
Art of Doubting
. Castellio, convinced that error has rights,
limited intervention against heresy to excommunication; no re-
ligious conviction justifies killing. Calvin's reply was the stony
Declaration of Orthodox Faith of 1554, followed in the same
year by the book in which Theodore Beza declared Castellio's
policy of toleration to be the devil's work: That Heretics Should
be Punished by Civil Magistracy
. 60

What Luther detested in Erasmus was a mild and discri-



Erasmus ( 1941: 63 [ Hudson trans.]); Luther ( 1961: 168 -9 [ Dillenberger
trans.]); Castellio ( 1981, with introd. by Feist Hirsch); Leclerc ( 1955: i. 133 -
46, 312 -42); Schmitt ( 1972a: 58 - 66 ); Friedman ( 1978: 11 - 20, 137 -9); Skinner
( 1978: ii. 241 -54); Popkin ( 1979: pp. xvi-17); O'Rourke Boyle ( 1983: 43 - 66 );
Trinkaus ( 1983: 274 - 301 ); Oberman ( 1989: 209 -25).


minating fideism, a wish to suspend judgement on most matters
of religious controversy while following traditional authority
where understanding cannot reach. A rougher and more re-
solute fideism appeared in the Invective Declamation on the
Uncertainty and Vanity of the Sciences
, written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim
in 1526. Agrippa had many
targets in this disorderly diatribe: the corrupt clergy, his own
earlier belief in occultism, but, above all, false and un-Christian
confidence in reason in all the arts and sciences, which he
wanted to replace with grace and scripture. 61 Rabelais made
fun of Agrippa in the Tiers Livre, where he appears as Herr
Trippa, the double-talking magician who 'doesn't know the
first line of philosophy, which is "know thyself"'. Later in the
same book Rabelais introduced the evasive Trouillogan,
"ephectic [cf. epochê, above] and Pyrrhonian philosopher', who
merely fans Panurge's burning wish to know whether he should
marry. 'For God's sake, should I marry?' asks Panurge. 'Ap-
parently,' answers Trouillogan.

P. And if I don't marry?
T. I see nothing inconvenient in it.
P. Nothing, you say?
T. Nothing, unless my sight deceives me.
P. Shall I marry then?
T. Perhaps.
P. Will I like it?
T. Depends on how it goes.
P. If it goes well, as I hope, will I be happy?
T. Happy enough.
P. Turn things around; if it goes badly?
T. I have to go.
P. But please, advise me; what should I do?
T. What you like.

When Rabelais sketched the cagey sceptic between 1546 and
1552, he had only Cicero, Diogenes and contemporary inter-



Prost, ( 1881-2); Zambelli ( 1960; 1965; 1966; 1969; 1970; 1976); Nauert
( 1965: 98 - 100, 157 -99); Bowen ( 1972); Müller-Jahncke ( 1973); Korkowski
( 1976); Popkin ( 1979: 21 -6); Crahay ( 1980); Perrone Compagni ( 1982);
Backus ( 1983); Keefer ( 1988).


preters such as Agrippa to go on. Another modern critic avail-
able to him, but one whom he and Agrippa probably missed,
was Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, nephew, heir, and
biographer of Giovanni Pico, and the only serious student of
Sextus before the middle of the sixteenth century. 62

His uncle and his uncle's circle of Florentine friends were
important influences on the younger Pico, who also continued
the older philosopher's devotion to Savonarola, even after
Florence tired of him in 1498. Gianfrancesco lived longer than
his uncle, from . 1469 to 1533, but he spent much of his time
fighting his relatives to keep the little princedom that he bought
from Giovanni in 1491, so his published output of more than
thirty works, about a third of them philosophical, is remark-
able. Savonarola taught him to exclude reason from religion
and to distrust philosophers as infidels, and Gianfrancesco modified the friar's views mainly by reinforcing them with his
greater learning. As early as 1496, in one of his first works, On
the Study of Divine and Human Philosophy
, he distinguished
divine philosophy, rooted in scripture, from human philosophy
based on reason; he denied that Christians need human wis-
dom, which is as likely to hinder as to help the quest for
salvation. By 1514 he had completed a longer and sterner
work, The Weighing of Empty Pagan Learning against True
Christian Teaching, Divided into Six Books, of Which Three
Oppose the Whole Sect of Philosophers in General, while the
Others Attack the Aristotelian Sect Particularly, and with Aris-
totelian Weapons, but Christian Teaching is Asserted and Cele-
brated throughout the Whole
. As its title suggests, the Examen,
published in 1520, hardened Pico's hostility to pagan philo-
sophy. Just when Luther was making the Bible the sole rule of
faith, Pico discredited every source of knowledge except scrip-
ture and condemned all attempts to find truth elsewhere as
vanitas, emptiness; profane knowledge is at best a distraction
from the work of salvation, as some of the greatest Fathers
had taught. Pico's purpose was sincerely religious and only



Rabelais ( 1973: 460-5, 498-504); Screech ( 1979: 235-8, 251-7); Zambelli
( 1960); cf. Schmitt ( 1967: 239-42).


incidentally philosophical; much of Renaissance scepticism re-
mained true to his pious motives, though they were not fully
appreciated for forty years after he wrote. By demolishing
secular thought, Pico hoped to empty the human mind of
reason and make it a clear channel for God's grace; man's only
intellectual security lay in church authority. Convinced of
Christianity's unique value, he turned his uncle's eirenic learn-
ing to contrary purposes, working skilfully with Greek manu-
scripts to make his humanism a potent weapon against religious
error. While Giovanni Pico had looked for philosophical har-
mony in his erudition, Gianfrancesco sought discord and con-
tradiction, proof that the pagan sages were not wise at all. 'It
is more reasonable and useful to render the philosopher's
dogmas uncertain', he concluded, 'than to conciliate them, as
my uncle wanted.' 63

Pico devoted most of his first three books to reproducing the
arguments of Sextus Empiricus against the various schools of
ancient philosophy; in Books IV and V he turned scepticism
against Aristotle. His extensive borrowings from Sextus often
come closer to translation than paraphrase or analysis, and his
choices are therapeutic rather than theoretical. Aristotle had
to go because he was the chief source of secular contagion
among the faithful, and Sextus was the best medicine available.
Pico regarded Christianity itself as immune to sceptical infec-
tion because it does not depend on the dogmatic philosophies
that Sextus had refuted. Given his own doctrinaire Christianity,
it was fair of him to refuse the name 'sceptic' for himself, even
though he used Sextus to assail other dogmas. Book II of the
Examen is the centre of Pico's general presentation of scep-
ticism; the problem of the criterion and the modes or tropes of
suspending judgement, which generally play on the relativity
of various points of view, occupy the whole second book. In
the latter half of the work, Aristotelian thought becomes the



Pico ( 1601: 486); Schmitt ( 1967: 11-48) remains the best treatment of the
younger Pico, on whom see also Schmitt ( 1970; 1972a); Walker ( 1958a: 146-
51; 1972: 33-5, 58-62); Raith ( 1967); Cassirer ( 1974: i. 144-9); Secret ( 1976); Burke ( 1977: 32-52). See also the introductions by Schmitt and Park in G. F. Pico ( 1984).


leading instance of vain natural knowledge. Pico tackled Aris-
totle not because he was a Platonist but because Aristotle was
the obligatory target for someone who aimed at the wholesale
ruin of philosophy. Book IV is a general assault on the Peri-
patetic tradition, tracing Aristotle's primacy to the errors of
Maimonides and Averroes and disputing it on all possible
counts: inauthenticity, inconsistency, inaccuracy, irrationality,
obscurity, and impiety. Book V concentrates the attack on
Aristotle's demonstrative method, interpreting texts from the
Physics and Posterior Analytics to make Aristotle more em-
piricist than he was and then turning the powerful sceptical
critique of sense knowledge against him. 'Since Aristotle's
teaching is based on sense, it is easily shown to be uncertain,
argued Pico; 'for not only is sense uncertain . . ., but quite
often false, and in more ways than Aristotle thought it can
deceive and be deceived. . . . It varies with different people
and at various times in the same person.' Holding Aristotle to
the Peripatetic axiom that the mind knows only through the
senses, Pico relentlessly set out to disqualify sensation as a
reliable conduit of information. From the Outlines of Sextus
and other works, he armed himself with all the best sceptical
arguments: a stick in water is not really bent, a mirage is not
what it seems, the colour-blind see false colours, and the sheen
on a pigeon's neck looks different from different angles. Such
everyday experiences confirmed his distrust of the empiricism
that he fathered on Aristotle. Finally, in Book VI, which
makes original use of such unusual sources as John Philoponus and Hasdai Crescas, Pico rejected particular Aristotelian doc-
trines; in dealing with physics, for example, he took impressive
arguments against Peripatetic teaching on motion, time, place,
and the vacuum from Philoponus and Crescas. His objections
to Aristotle's logic reinforced the case against sense knowledge;
if neither reason nor sensation can be trusted, philosophy has
no resources at all. 64

Another sceptical opponent of Aristotle was the Portuguese
physician Francisco Sanches. He published his Quod nihil scitur



Aristotle, Posterior Analytics 100a10-14; Physics 184a16-25; Pico ( 1601:
687); Schmitt ( 1967: 49-159, esp. 75; 1989: ch. 8); Sirat ( 1985: 357-72).


in 1581, two decades after the Latin Sextus had begun to
appear, yet he made no use of Sextus in an anti-Peripatetic
polemic as ardent as Pico's but different in its motivations.
Sanches was born in Spain near the Portuguese border in 1551.
Eleven years later he moved with his family to Bordeaux, a
common destination for Jews fleeing the rigours of Iberian
Christianity; Montaigne's mother's family were Spanish Jews
who had been in France for several generations. Whether
Sanches was a Jew is unclear; he may have made a great point
of his Catholic orthodoxy just because the religious climate in
Bordeaux and Toulouse was so tense. In any case, he spent
nine years after 1562 learning grammar, logic, and natural
philosophy at Bordeaux's College of Guyenne, where Mon-
taigne had studied a decade before under the headship of
André de Gouveia, brother of the anti-Ramist Antonio. He
may also have read medicine in Bordeaux before travelling to
Rome in 1571 to spend two years at the Sapienza during its
great days as a centre of medical empiricism and naturalist
Aristotelianism. Before returning to France in 1573 to com-
plete his medical studies at Montpellier, Sanches had learned
to appreciate the Roman accent on observation in medicine
and pharmacy and also to respect the methodological writings
of Galen. He finished his doctoral work in 1574 and left the
next year for Toulouse, where a job had become available.
Although he won his chair in medicine only in 1612, he stayed
in Toulouse for the rest of his life, practising medicine, lectur-
ing in surgery, and, from 1585 or so, teaching philosophy until
he died in 1623. 65

His rather brief proclamation That Nothing is Known was
the work of a young and insecurely employed philosopher-
physician who aimed his doubts at the innards of Peripatetic
dogma, particularly the doctrine of the demonstrative syllogism.
He used the polemic of Vives Against the Pseudodialecticians,
but he carried the critique of logic further in denying all
certainty to syllogistic reasoning. Beginning with Aristotle's



Sanches ( 1988, with Limbrick's introd. 1-88); Iriarte ( 1935; 1940); Cruz Costa
( 1942); Moreira de Sá ( 1947); Carvalho ( 1952); Moreau ( 1960; 1966);
Miccolis ( 1965); Crescini ( 1965); Popkin ( 1979: 36-41).


claim that knowledge is 'a habit of mind with an aptitude for
demonstration', he showed that the usual technique leads into
a maze of incomprehensible words--worst of all the vacuous
'being'--made even more meaningless by the logic of terms.
'Do you call this knowledge?' he protested; 'I call it ignor-
ance.' 66 Aristotelianism is a shaky framework of bad defini-
tions supporting circular arguments. Sterile syllogisms only
shuffle the old data; formal logic is philosophical cobbling that
yields nothing new. To replace the flimsy and fruitless formal-
ism of the Peripatetics, he looked to Galen's tools of judge-
ment and experience. Scepticism for Sanches was a weapon
against Aristotle, not an autonomous philosophical theory,
and the goal of his anti-Aristotelianism was a firmer foundation
for medicine, conceived as a philosophical enterprise. Because
he wanted a positive method for medicine, the constructive,
probabilist strain in Academic scepticism appealed to him more
than Pyrrhonism, and he also followed the contemporary litera-
ture on method produced by Niccolò Leoniceno and others.
Despite his medical habit of accumulating, organizing, and
testing observations, however, Sanches undermined the claims
of experience with sceptical doubts about the powers of sense
and mind. 67

Comparing knowledge to vision, he asserted that 'knowledge
is only of each individual thing, taken by itself, not of many
things at once, just as a single act of seeing relates only to one
particular object'. To accumulate such objects mentally is to
remember, not to know them, but any epistemology based on
recollection will lead to endless regress, which will also frustrate
knowledge if one defines it as understanding through causes.
Where does the vortex of caused causes stop? Aristotelian
attempts to solve the problem with axioms or first principles
will drown in the bottomless well of definition. Complete
knowledge is knowledge of wholes, whose tiniest parts escape
our comprehension. 68



Aristotle, Nicomachaean Ethics 1139b31-5 ( Thomson trans.); Sanches ( 1988: 178-82, 266 [ Thomson trans.]).


Limbrick introd. in Sanches ( 1988: 53-67).


Sanches ( 1988: 190-207 [ Thomson trans.]).


For luckless humanity, there are two means of discovering truth, . . .
experience and judgement. . . . Experience is in every instance deceit-
ful and difficult . . . [and] reveals only the external aspect of events; in
no way does it reveal the natures of things. As for judgement, it is
applied to . . . experience; and . . . likewise can . . . only be applied to
externals, but even this is done badly.

Sanches found small comfort in this allusion to the first aphorism
of Hippocrates, still less in meditating on the faulty means that
people use to transmit their flawed judgments in books too
many to read and too poor to worry about. People keep
changing what they think; inconsistency results from ignorance.
Having given, up the effort to learn from this mistaken wisdom,
Sanches 'turned [his] . . . attention to things . . . and began to
examine [them] . . . as if no proposition had ever been laid
down by anyone. . . . How am I to avoid doubt', he asked 'if I
cannot grasp the natures of things, from which true scientific
knowledge has to come?' Even if he lived for centuries, he
could 'have experience of only a few things, and faulty experi-
ence at that; still worse will be the judgments'. Finally, Sanches decided that his quest for knowledge only uncovered the ob-
stacles that make it unattainable, even though he gave no
rigorous proof that nothing is known. He ended his book with
the single interrogative 'Quid?' or 'What?' 69

Michel de Montaigne, another questioner and the greatest
Renaissance sceptic, was born near Bordeaux in 1533, before
the wars of religion began, but by the time he entered the
Parlement of Bordeaux as a councillor in the late 1550's the
situation in France had grown explosive. His father, who be-
came mayor of Bordeaux in 1557, died eleven years later,
leaving his estate to his son. Before he died--so Montaigne tells us--he asked his son to translate a fifteenth-century Latin
work on natural theology by Ramon Sibiuda that was trouble-
some enough to appear on the Index in 1558-9. The translation
was Montaigne's first literary venture, but in 1571 he 'retired
to the bosom of the learned virgins' to give himself entirely to



Ibid. (278-90 [ Thomson trans.]) .



leisured thought and writing. 70 Through the last years of his
life, political duty often interrupted this idyllic plan. He served
two terms as mayor of Bordeaux when the region was badly
troubled by religious strife, and he also worked as negotiator
between the warring factions. The first complete edition of his
three books of Essais appeared posthumously in 1595, three
years after he died. The earliest essays date from the* early
1570s, just after his first retirement, and the first edition in two
books came out in 1580, followed by a three-book version in
1588. The 1595 text is larger by a quarter than the last lifetime
edition because of manuscript notes added posthumously. Like
Ramus, though perhaps less compulsively, Montaigne never
stopped revising; one hallmark of the Essais is their evolving
organic relation with the living person who wrote them. An-
other is their astounding erudition, including wide philoso-
phical learning. Although he had a formal education in law,
Montaigne did his philosophizing outside the university, as a
private moral thinker in the tradition of Cicero, Petrarch, and
Bruni. His independence from the academy no doubt made it
easier for him to write in the vernacular and thus to join
Bruno, his contemporary, in inaugurating the transformation
of philosophical language that Descartes, Hobbes, and Kant would complete in the next centuries. Though his Greek was
meagre, Montaigne was a talented Latinist, and, because much
of ancient literature circulated by his time either in Latin or in
the vernacular, he was able to stuff his essays with an enormous
mass of allusion, quotation, and history from a wide variety of
sources, all of them subject to his own original judgements.
One measure of Montaigne's literary brilliance is that pedantry
did not suffocate his prose. Naturally, he knew the older



Montaigne ( 1965) is the Frame translation, the source of all quotations
here; the reference to an inscription in Montaigne's study is from Frame
introduction, pp. ix-x; see also Montaigne ( 1962). The bibliography on Mon-
taigne is large; see esp. Villey ( 1933; 1935); Strowski ( 1931; 1938); Frame ( 1955; 1965; 1969); Keller ( 1957); Brown ( 1963); Thibaudet ( 1963); Brush ( 1966); Dréano ( 1969); Boase ( 1970); Chinard ( 1970); Sayce ( 1972); Trinquet ( 1972); McGowan ( 1974); Limbrick ( 1977); Popkin ( 1979: 42-55); Burke ( 1981); McFarlane and Maclean ( 1982); Screech ( 1983); Friedrich ( 1984);
Schiffman ( 1984).




sources of ancient scepticism Cicero and Diogenes Laertius as well as their contemporary expositors, but he also read the
newer material provided by the Latin Sextus, which emerged
only ten years before he began to write.

Montaigne's most extensive presentation of scepticism is
also his longest essay, composed between 1575 and 1580: he
called it the 'Apology for Raymond Sebond', ostensibly a
defence of the Natural Theology or Book of Creatures trans-
lated for his father and published in 1569. Natural (as distinct
from revealed) theology infers God's existence and attributes
from creatures by analogical and other rational arguments; the
Index listed Sibiuda because he trusted reason too much in
religion. In Montaigne's words, 'he undertakes by human and
natural reasons to establish and prove against the atheists all
the articles of the Christian religion. . . . I do not think it is
possible to do better [than Sebond] in that argument', he
added, meaning only that the Natural Theology would serve as
well as any other effort in a futile genre. 71 Faith and grace
must uphold religion; man's pygmy reason can help only a
little, and never by itself. In good Pyrrhonist fashion, Mon-
taigne showed that reason's weakness is as much a drag on
Sibiuda's opponents as on his supporters. On the immense
stage of the cosmos, the human is a 'miserable and puny
creature'. Comparison with other animals, who reason, speak,
learn, teach, and even display piety, reveals the vanity of our
self-image; it was a favourite sceptical theme and a strong rebuke
to humanist pretensions about human dignity. 'When I play
with my cat,' he mused, 'who knows if I am not a pastime to
her more than she is to me?' That animals even have a faculty
of abstract reasoning is proved from their dreams. Many pos-
sess powers beyond man's comprehension, though they lack
the unruly imaginations and redundant desires that lead to sin.
Philosophers blocked from proving man's uniqueness on intel-
lectual or moral grounds are reduced to aesthetics. Then,



Montaigne ( 1965: 320); Lohr ( 1988: 543-5); for an understanding of the
scepticism of the 'Apology' differing from mine, see Screech's introduction in
Montaigne ( 1987: pp. ix-xxxiii).



even if the beasts . . . had all the virtue, knowledge, wisdom . . . of
the Stoics, they would still be beasts, . . . [not] comparable to a
wretched, wicked, senseless man. In short, whatever is not as we are
is worth nothing. And God himself, to make himself appreciated,
must resemble us.

Inverting the usual humanist line on man's creation in God's
image, Montaigne concluded that the human form is shabby
evidence of grandeur. If we were cranes, God would have long
legs and a pointed beak, and Trismegistus would have an avian
marvel to boast about. 72

What people know may be useful to them, but not very
useful. Learning will not dull the pain of gout. God's first
command to Adam was to obey, not to know; the wish to
know caused the first sin. Knowledge can lead to the pains of
hell and to earthly torment as well; we fear and imagine all
manner of things. 'In much wisdom is much grief', said the
preacher. Religion needs simplicity and ignorance, but not
insensibility. In recommending the Stoic remedy of annihila-
tion to those who know life's agonies too well, philosophy
shows its impotence. We learn from the nations of the New
World that the simple and unlearned life is more pleasant and
also more virtuous than ours. Docility is good; curiosity is evil.
Socrates was wise to think himself ignorant, and Paul con-
founded the wisdom of this world. 73 The learned are like stalks
of wheat: if their heads are really full, they bend low in
humility; only empty heads stand high. If we attend to the
testimony and experience of the best minds, we see that philo-
sophy aims 'to seek out truth, knowledge and certainty' in one
of three ways. Stoic, Epicurean, and Peripatetic dogmatists
think they have found what philosophy seeks. Doctrinaire
Academics believe that it cannot be found.

Pyrrho and other Skeptics or Epechists . . . say that they are still in
search of the truth, . . . that those who think they have found it are
infinitely mistaken; and that there is an overbold vanity in . . . [saying]
that human powers are not capable of attaining it. . . . Ignorance that



Montaigne ( 1965: 329, 331, 358, 395-7).


Ibid. 366, 370 ; Eccles. 1:17-18; 1 Cor. 1:19-2:1.



knows itself . . . is not complete ignorance; to be that, it must be
ignorant of itself. So that the profession of the Pyrrhonians is to
waver, doubt and inquire, to be sure of nothing. . . . Now this attitude
. . . , taking all things in without adherence or consent, leads them to.
their Ataraxy, . . . a peaceful and sedate condition, . . . exempt from
. . . agitations. . . . They do not fear contradiction. . . . If you accept
their proposition, they will just as gladly take the opposite one to
maintain; it is all one to them; they have no preference. . . . And by
this extremity of doubt that shakes its own foundations, they separate
. . . themselves from many opinions . . . which . . . have upheld doubt
and ignorance.

In the sphere of knowledge, the Pyrrhonists recommend sus-
pension of judgement; in action, they advise following nature,
law, and custom. Their tranquil prescription leaves the mind
'naked and empty', void of any heretical opinion and ready to
be filled with God's grace. Pyrrhonian man is 'a blank tablet.
prepared to take from the finger of God such forms as he shall
be pleased to engrave'. 74

Aristotle, 'the prince of dogmatists', played the philosophical
trick of making his hollow thoughts appear hard in order to
hide their vanity, while Socrates, Parmenides, Xenophanes,
and other doubters thought it wiser to question than to answer.
Even Plato, who was ready to tell the big lie for the sake of a
higher good, chose to write dialogues in order to express a
variety of ideas. Philosophy amuses us until curiosity buries
itself in idle and inconsistent opinion, as heard in the 'clatter
of . . . philosophical brains' from Thales to Epicurus who tried
to penetrate the mystery of the godhead instead of honouring
God's incomprehensibility, as Paul did in Athens. 75 Like
Cusanus, Montaigne had a keen sense of the disproportion
between the divine condition and the human. 'The least-known
things are the fittest to be deified; wherefore to make gods of
ourselves . . . passes the utmost bounds of feeble-mindedness.'
When we liken God to mankind, we limit and defile him.
Furnished with human joys, paradise itself seems cheap.
Bizarre and wicked deeds done in the name of religion turn



Montaigne ( 1965: 371-2, 375).


Ibid. 376, 383.



reverence into sacrilege when humans vulgarize the holy.
Montaigne's ethnography taught him that, in worship as in all
other respects, 'there are species of men . . . who have very
little resemblance to our kind'. If nature mocks our laws in this
way, how absurd to think that God honours them. 76 Our speech
is a frail instrument, soon shattered by paradox and semantic
confusion if we try to catch God in a sieve of words. The
Pyrrhonists anticipated the need for a negative or, better, an
interrogative theology; they saw that they could not

express their general conception in any manner of speaking; for they
would need a new language. Ours is wholly formed of affirmative
propositions, which to them are utterly repugnant; so that when they
say 'I doubt,' immediately you have them by the throat. . . . [Their]
idea is more firmly grasped in the form of interrogation: 'What do I
know?' -- the words I bear as a motto, inscribed over a pair of scales.

Montaigne, who covered the beams of his study with quota-
tions from Sextus, had his motto -- Que sais-je? -- cast as a
medal with the scales on the obverse, to remind him always of
the mismeasure between God and mankind and of the need to
keep doubting. 77

Pomponazzi and others had shown philosophy to be unsure
of itself on questions of great theological moment, but Mon-
taigne went further in distancing faith from reason. Having
exposed the posturings of theology, Montaigne turned to na-
tural philosophy and medicine. Anyone who considers astro-
nomy for a moment 'would think we had had coach-makers
. . . up there . . . [to] set up machines with various movements';
such constructs are 'dreams and fanatical follies'. A review of
ancient cosmological opinion shows that one prime substance
is as good as another, certainly as plausible as the matter and
form of Aristotle, 'the god of scholastic knowledge'. People
who consider Sibiuda's reasons defective should investigate the
learning of physicians, who cannot account for the simplest
bodily acts, the movement of a finger or a foot. Claims that
expertise or first principles belong uniquely to *various dis-



Ibid. 383, 391.



Ibid. 392-3.




ciplines are screens for ignorance. Only God can give us prin-
ciples. No human assertion has more weight than another
unless weighed in the scales of reason. Aristotle's dogmas are
of no use to the cannibals, who do nicely with a physics of
common sense. Philosophy is a strange and less useful tool,
but quite pliable. In Italy, Montaigne once told a traveller
anxious to speak Italian that he should simply tack Italian
endings onto any Romance words that came to mind, and 'he
would never fail to hit some dialect. . . . I say the same thing
about philosophy; it has so many faces . . . that all our dreams
and reveries are found in it.' Given so many choices, Montaigne
found his own behaviour conforming to many styles of philo-
sophy. 'What rule my life belonged to, I did not learn until
after it was . . . spent. A new figure: an unpremeditated and
accidental philosopher.' 78

People want to reason well, yet they cannot say what reason
is or where it resides. If reason lives in the soul, is its home
immortal? One cannot tell what Aristotle or the other ancients
taught on this critical question. Weak and contradictory claims
about immortality show only that the subject is beyond man's
power, and teachings on the body are as confused as those on
the soul. In the face of this perplexity, Montaigne warned that
Pyrrhonist techniques were a 'final fencer's trick' and a 'des-
perate stroke' to be used rarely and cautiously; a proper time
would be when 'one of these new doctors tries to show off his
ingenuity . . . at the risk of his salvation and yours' by substitu-
ting philosophical dogma for the gift of faith. In ancient times
diversity of opinion created confusion, but now the rigid Peri-
patetic syllabus breeds credulity as well. 79 The learned now
dispute everything dogmatically, but their querulous certainties
would evaporate if they realized how little it takes to unsettle
our powers of perception and judgement. A sore toe or an
upset stomach can shake a world-view. Having seen how fickle
were his own states of mind, Montaigne claimed to have 'acci-
dentally engendered . . . a certain constancy of opinions. . . . I
do not change easily. . . . And since I am not capable of choos-



Ibid. 400, 403, 408-9.


Ibid 418-20.


ing, I accept other people's choice and stay . . . where God
put me.' He once told a natural philosopher that he 'would
rather follow facts than reason', but then he found that 'the
Pyrrhonians . . . ruin the apparent facts of experience'. Beliefs
and customs change with time and space, so that 'the form of
our being depends on . . . the soil where we are born.' In
morals and manners variation is especially great; the best each
person can do is to follow local custom, but this leaves moral
agency entirely unhinged. Except for the Pyrrhonists, philoso-
phers have little help to give. 80

Consider the noble cause that persuaded Metrocles to shift
from Peripatetic reticence to Stoic candour. He farted 'while
debating in the presence of his school, and was hiding for
shame, until Crates went to visit him and, adding to his con-
solations and reasons the example of his own freedom, started
a farting contest with him, by which he rid him of his scruple.'
Philosophy as farting contest: this was Montaigne's emblem of
reason disgraced and impotent. 81 Philosophy also divulged the
scandal of the senses, which Montaigne called 'the greatest
foundation and proof of our ignorance'. Epicureans maintain
that if the senses perceive falsely, there is no knowledge; but
the Stoics claim that sense perceptions yield no knowledge just
because they are false; from these dogmatic premisses Mon-
taigne concluded 'that there is no knowledge'. After listing
phenomena that trick each of the senses -- an echo that comes
from the wrong direction, a white scene that looks yellow to a
jaundiced eye -- he recalled the philosopher who blinded him-
self to avoid visual distraction. This catalogue of sensory decep-
tion introduces the problem of the criterion:

To judge the appearances . . . , we would need a judicatory instru-
ment; to verify this instrument, we need a demonstration; to verify
the demonstration, an instrument: there we are in a circle. Since the
senses cannot decide our dispute, being themselves full of uncertainty,
it must be reason that does so. No reason can be established without
another reason: there we go retreating back to infinity.



Ibid. 428, 430, 433.


Ibid. 440.


Sensation runs in a circle; reason regresses forever. In a world
of coming-to-be and passing-away, the apprehension of being
is as inconstant as water running through the fingers. Only
God exists, eternally and immutably. Seneca's wish that man-
kind should lift itself above the sordid human condition was 'a
useful desire, but . . . absurd. . . . [No man] can raise . . .
himself above himself and humanity. . . . He will rise if God by
exception lends him a hand. . . . It is for our Christian faith,
not for [ Seneca's] Stoical virtue, to aspire to that divine and
miraculous metamorphosis.' 82

Montaigne's Pyrrhonist rejection of Stoicism in the 'Apol-
and elsewhere in the second book of the Essais has --
along with other evidence -- persuaded some critics that his
thinking evolved from humanist Stoicism in the first book
through a sceptical crisis in book two toward an Epicurean re-
solution in the final book. Montaigne Essais obviously grew
with him, but their lines of development were too complex and
their contours of expression too subtle to fit such easy patterns.
'That to Philosophize Is to Learn to Die' is an early essay from
the period 1572-4, and its intention 'to teach us not to be
afraid to die', is a sentiment worthy of a Stoic -- or an Epicur-
ean. In fact, the Garden is more visible than the Porch in the
passage (reminiscent of Valla) from the same essay which
maintains that 'in virtue itself the ultimate goal . . . is volup-
tuousness. I like to beat their ears with that word.' Also
Epicurean was Montaigne's wish, supported by two lines from
Lucretius, that death 'find me planting my cabbages, but care-
less of death, and still more of my unfinished garden'. 83 In the
late essay 'Of Experience' ( 1587-8) that closes the third vol-
ume, written nearly ten years after his refutation of Stoicism in
the 'Apology', Montaigne spoke the lines of a Stoic sage in
teaching that 'we must learn to endure what we cannot avoid'.
In a decidedly un-Pyrrhonist vein, he also wrote that 'there is
no desire more natural than the desire for knowledge. . . .
When reason fails us, we use experience, a weaker and



Ibid. 443, 447, 454, 457 ; Popkin ( 1979: 48-52).


Montaigne ( 1965: pp. xii, 56, 62); Lucretius, On the Nature of Things
. 900-1.


less dignified means. But truth is so great a thing that we must
not disdain any medium that will lead us to it.' In this most
mature phase of his thought, the experience that he had learned
to trust was experience of himself, unmediated by any philo-
sophical system. 'I study myself more than any other subject.
That is my metaphysics,' he concluded, 'that is my physics.' 84

Montaigne's essays are so powerfully compelling because of
their grace and wit. He had the gift of electrifying a huge
armature of classical citation that would crush a lesser stylist,
and he knew how to update his erudition and make it news-
worthy. Cultural relativism, for instance, had been an issue for
Sextus, who emphasized the many differences among people
separated by culture and geography in order to undermine the
reader's confidence in the probity of his own behaviour. When
Europeans feel hot, Ethiopians shiver; sexual, religious, and
ceremonial usages differ so widely that one cannot speak of a
uniform human nature. Montaigne's best-known treatment of
this theme is the essay 'On Cannibals', written around the
same time as the 'Apology'. To enliven the ancient topos of
strange customs in faraway places, he describes the habits of
New World people, including 'three of these men, ignorant
of the price they will pay . . . for gaining knowledge of the cor-
ruptions of this side of the ocean, . . . [who] left the serenity of
their own sky to come and see ours . . . at Rouen, at the time
of the late King Charles IX' in 1562. Comparing the habits of
these people to his own, Montaigne determined that 'each
man calls barbarism whatever is not his own practice.' 'These
nations . . . seem to me barbarous in this sense,' he conceded,
'that they have been fashioned very little by the human mind.
. . . The laws of nature still rule them, very little corrupted by
ours.' As for head-hunting, Montaigne was 'not sorry that we
notice the barbarous horror of such acts, but . . . heartily sorry
that, judging their faults rightly, we should be so blind to our
own. . . . We may well call these people barbarians in respect
to the rules of reason,' he wrote, 'but not in respect to our-
selves, who surpass them in every kind of barbarity.' Montaigne



Montaigne ( 1965: 814, 821, 835).


reported a long talk with one of the three visitors to Rouen,
who impressed him with his martial bearing and his elegant
modesty. 'All this is not too bad,' he concluded, 'but what's
the use? They don't wear breeches.' 85 In his Journals, Mon-
taigne recorded other personal experiences of alien customs in
Italy and elsewhere in Europe, all of which convinced him that
old moral certainties were toppling under the weight of new
information flooding into Europe from the voyages of explora-
tion and other journeys of mental discovery. The most im-
portant casualty of this transcultural crisis of confidence was
religion, especially religion as the ground of morals. In the
'Apology' he admitted that 'we are Christians by the same title
that we are Perigordians or Germans'. Faith is an accident of
geography. This was strong talk for so thoroughly Christian a
culture, whose more usual instincts were to bolster religious
conviction with ethical prescriptions and other dogmas of philo-
sophy. Montaigne hoped that his Pyrrhonism, like the ancient
variety, would lead not to anomie but to ataraxia, the tranquil-
ity that was supposed to follow from suspended judgement.
But like other utopian states of mind or world, this peace
never came. Instead, scepticism caused more anxiety and gave
philosophers plenty to brood about for a long time to come,
especially in the next century, when Descartes and Pascal
traced out the sceptical implications of Montaigne's thought. 86

Justus Lipsius on a new moral code

In the section of the 'Apology' where he exposed the strife
among philosophers on virtue and the greatest good, Montaigne
recorded his wish that ' Justus Lipsius, the most learned man
we have left, . . . might . . . compile into a register . . . the
opinions of ancient philosophy on . . . our being and our con-
duct. . . . What a fine and useful work that would be!' 87 By the
time Montaigne added this passage to the 'Apology', Lipsius
had published one of his two most successful works, the TwoBooks on Constancy



Ibid. 152-3, 155-6, 158-9.


Ibid. 325.


Ibid. 436.


Books on Constancy of 1584, but he had not yet completed the
systematic surveys of ethics and physics which, at least as far
as Stoic thought is concerned, fulfilled Montaigne's wish: his
Digest of Stoic Philosophy and Physics of the Stoics both ap-
peared in 1604 and took their place as the leading statements
of the Renaissance revival of Stoicism. In the earlier De con-
, Lipsius had turned to Stoic moral philosophy as a
refuge from the horrors of religious and civil war that ravaged
the Low Countries in the last third of the sixteenth century,
but later, in the Digest (Manductio) and Physics (Physiologia),
he recognized that ethics and physics were inseparable aspects
of Stoic philosophical inquiry because the injunction to live
one's life in accord with nature requires knowledge of nature. 88
Even though the aims of the Physiologia are more ethical and
theological than physical, Lipsius deserves credit for trying to
reconstruct Stoic natural philosophy and reassert its centrality
in Stoic thought. Even today, the ancient evidence on all of
Stoic philosophy except ethics remains fragmentary; in the
Middle Ages and early Renaissance the texts were even less
accessible and intelligible, despite the fact that Stoicism had
dominated philosophical discourse for more than four hundred
years in the Hellenistic era.

Historians usually divide the long history of the Stoic school
into Early, Middle, and Late periods, of which only the last is
represented by anything more than fragmentary evidence.
Seneca, Epictetus, and Marcus Aurelius lived in the first and
second centuries CE under Roman rule, but only Seneca wrote
in Latin, so it was Seneca, Cicero, and various patristic authors
who transmitted Middle and Late Stoic doctrine to the Middle
Ages. For medieval Christians, Stoic thought held a number of
attractions: it was systematic in scope, earnest in morality, and
reverent in theology. Seneca seemed so pious that a false cor-
respondence with St. Paul was long attributed to him. Thus,



Lipsius ( 1939) reprints a 16th-c. translation by Sir John Stradling of De
; otherwise, for the Latin works see Lipsius ( 1675) and ( 1978- ).
The Stradling translation contains an introduction by Rudolf Kirk. For other
secondary literature see Faider ( 1922); Nordman ( 1932); Glaesener ( 1938);
Ruysschaert ( 1949); Saunders ( 1955); Oestreich ( 1975; 1982); Zanta ( 1975);
Abel ( 1978: 67-113).


even though their teachings on fate, matter, creation, and
other topics conflicted with Christian doctrine, medieval writers
could be much friendlier to the Stoics -- such as they remem-
bered them -- than to the Epicureans. However, the Latin texts
read in the Middle Ages had more to say about ethics than
about logic or physics, and even when Epictetus and Marcus
Aurelius became available in the fifteenth and sixteenth cen-
turies, they added another layer of moral pronouncement to a
picture of Stoicism that already exaggerated its ethical content
and ignored or understated the logical, physical, and epistemo-
logical contributions of the Early and Middle Stoa. Influenced
by Cynic ethics, Megarian logic, Academic theology, and Peri-
patetic method, Zeno had founded his own school at the
beginning of the third century BCE; the school took its name
from the stoa or 'porch' where Zeno taught. Through the late
second century, his greatest successors were Cleanthes, who
excelled in theology and physics, and Chrysippus, best remem-
bered for logic, psychology, and comprehensive scholarship.
Unattributed evidence of the Early Stoa is often thought to
come from Chrysippus. The most renowned figures of the.
Middle Stoa were Panaetius of Rhodes and Posidonius of
Apamea; Cicero knew Posidonius personally, and Panaetius
greatly influenced him. 89

In 1354 Petrarch began his long treatise On Remedies for
Both Kinds of Fortune
, imitating a sixth-century work by Martin
of Braga then attributed to Seneca. Petrarch counselled the
sage neither to revel in good luck nor despair in the bad.
Fortune smiles for a thousand wayward reasons -- birth, health,
family, friends, means, and so on -- but the same circumstances
lead just as often to misery. A wise person will cool passions
inflamed by either turn of fate and trust in a providential God
for deliverance. Petrarch inaugurated a long Renaissance tradi-
tion of respect for Stoicism as a regimen of moral betterment
useful to the philosophical Christian. But many early modern



Verbeke ( 1983); Colish ( 1985: i. 1-79; ii. 1-9, 142-53, 234-41); Long
( 1986: 107-121, 150-2, 210-11, 216-18, 229-31). On Stoicism see also
Screech ( 1956); Ettinghausen ( 1972); Spanneut ( 1973); Eymard d'Angers
( 1976); Lapidge ( 1988); and above, n. 88.


critics, who misinterpreted the Stoic view of the passions to
mean that all emotion should be quenched, considered their
medicine too bitter to swallow. Valla ridiculed the notion that
virtue is a good in itself and denied that a Christian should be
careless of pleasure and pain. Montaigne confessed that 'pas-
sions are as easy for me to avoid as they are hard for me to
moderate. . . . He who cannot attain the noble impassibility of
the Stoics, let him take refuge in . . . this plebeian stupidity of
mine. What those men did by virtue, I train myself to do by
disposition.' Christians saw much to admire in the Stoics,
having learned from them such valuable lessons as the scheme
of the four cardinal virtues worked out by Panaetius and passed
on by Cicero, but they also had to face certain objections:
making human virtue its own reward displaces divine love as
the end of moral action; banning the passions casts doubt on
the behaviour of a Christ who felt hot anger and wept salt
tears; determinism threatens God's power and man's moral
freedom. Critics from Salutati to Calvin saw these conflicts,
which Justus Lipsius tried to resolve by creating the point of
view now called 'Neo-Stoicism'. 90

JoestLips was a Catholic Fleming born in the neighbour-
hood of Brussels and Louvain in 1547. As an adolescent he
studied with the Jesuits in Cologne, but soon moved on to the
University of Louvain and travelled in Germany and Italy,
where he met the humanist Marc-Antoine Muret. While still in
his early twenties he published his first important philological
work, the Mixed Readings of 1569, which cast his notes on a
number of classical authors into fine Ciceronian periods --
despite his association with the anti-Ciceronian Muret. In 1572,
after Spanish troops commandeered his property in Belgium,
he made the first of his notorious moves to another university
and a new faith, accepting a chair of history and eloquence at
Protestant Jena and shifting to the Lutheran confession, as
such a post required. The pillaging Spaniards provoked Lipsius
into anti-papist tirades, but even on the surface his typical
attitude toward religion was indifference. At this stage of his



Montaigne ( 1965: 780); Kraye ( 1988: 360-74).


life, he was a rising young classicist who found the wars of re-
ligion unhelpful to his career. A deeper look at his behaviour
suggests that he was a Familist, like several other scholars
connected with the publishing house of Christopher Plantin.
The secretive Family of Love evolved from earlier Anabaptist
origins into an anti-denominational, pacifist individualism,
superbly adapted to the purposes of those rare spirits who
found the religious venom of the later sixteenth century spirit-
ually distasteful. Believing the true church to be invisible,
Familists could pass lightly from one external observance to
another, as Lipsius certainly did. His new colleagues at Jena
were less adaptable, and denounced him as a crypto-Jesuit
when he was named their dean. He left Jena for Cologne,
married, and published important works on Tacitus and Plautus
that finally convinced him to follow Muret in abandoning the
Ciceronian ideal. This literary turnabout had philosophical
consequences, because Muret had made the Stoic Seneca a
stylish alternative to Cicero. 91

Lipsius became doctor of laws at Catholic Louvain in 1576,
but he was soon driven to Protestant territory again when
soldiers looted his house a second time. By 1579 he was pro-
fessor of history in Calvinist Leiden, where he stayed for
thirteen years, always maintaining his connections with friends
in Catholic regions. While at Leiden he witnessed Protestant
hatred for the Roman church at its bitterest, and in this con-
text he published his two most frequently printed books, On
Constancy ( 1584)
and Six Books of Politics or Civil Doctrine
( 1589). Drawing on Aristotle, Cicero, Tacitus, and other clas-
sical sources, Lipsius argued in the latter work for a policy of
strict intolerance; no state can permit more than one religion,
and public dissenters must be punished without mercy. He
Christianized the goddess Fortune as representing God's will,
but kept her as whimsical and irresistible as the Roman Fortuna.
The only remedies are resolute faith and unwavering obedience
to the powers that be. Even when oppressed by tyranny, a



Ruysschaert ( 1949: 1-8, 43-7, 154-68); Saunders ( 1955: 1-18); Van Dorsten
( 1973: 26-36); Hamilton ( 1981).


subject's only lawful weapon is the shield of forbearance, never
the sword of violence. Like Montaigne, Lipsius dreaded civil
conflict more than despotism, and he was willing to pay the
price. From its opening chapters, the dialogue On Constancy
seeks a private remedy for public strife. When Lipsius tells his
interlocutor how he fled the troubled Low Countries, it takes
no time to convince him that 'travelling into forreine coun-
treyes is not available against the inwarde malladies of the
minde'. The Stoics teach that such palliatives are useless
against the deeper passions, whose only cures are wisdom and
constancy; right reason leads to constancy, while inconstancy
arises from mere opinion. Evils that shake constancy through
the passions of desire, joy, fear, and sorrow may be private or
public, and public afflictions are the more fearful because they
affect more people and seduce them into moral error. 92

One source of public evil is intemperate love of any par-
ticular country or political order: 'if we respect the whole
nature of man, all these earthlie countries are vaine . . . except
only in respect of the body, and not of the minde or soule, . . .
but heaven is our true or rightful! countrey.' Any evil that
comes to an earthly land must be understood as God's pro-
vidence to be obeyed, not as blind chance to be defied. To
resist the divine plan is impious and foolish as well, no matter
how awful the calamity: 'if there bee a God, there is also a
Providence, . . . [and thus] a decree and order of thinges, and
of that followeth a firme and sure necessitie of eventes . . . ;
with what axe will you cut off this chaine?' 93 Although some
accuse the Stoics of letting destiny rule divinity, Seneca and
Panaetius have shown that Zeno and Chrysippus simply used
the words 'destiny' and 'fate' to mean 'God'. 'No other sect of
Philosophers avowed more the majesty and providence of God,
nor drewe men neerer to heavenlie and eternall thinges' than
the Stoics, from whom we learn that destiny is 'an eternal
decree of God's providence'. None the less, the Christian must
adjust the Stoic concept of destiny in several respects, by



Lipsius ( 1939: 73); Ruysschaert ( 1949: 9-13); Saunders ( 1955: 18-33);
Skinner ( 1978: ii. 277-84); Oestreich ( 1982: 17-20).


Lipsius ( 1939: 98, 112); Oestreich ( 1982: 20-2).


making God clearly the ruler of fate and by allowing some
contingency in events and assuring man's free will. Freedom,
contingency, and moral responsibility are preserved in the
order of second causes, far removed from the realm of first
causes where destiny prevails. Likewise, Lipsius safeguards
God's goodness in an evil world by distinguishing the ultimate
causes of the catastrophes that surround us from the immediate
but transitory effects that we experience as evil. God's will,
which must be good, is the remote but primary cause of every-
thing that happens to us, and his final intentions shape a good
providential design. By and by, God's purposes will be re-
vealed, and in the mean time we may thank him for our pains:
they make us stronger, test our virtue, and set an example for
others. 94

Lipsius saw his miseries mount up again in 1590 when Dirck
Coornhert published a long treatise in Dutch attacking his
Politics on the issue of governmental enforcement of confes-
sional unity. In his reply, On One Religion ( 1590), Lipsius
maintained the religious authority of the secular arm, but he
warned against too literal a reading of some of his inflammatory
language, particularly the infamous advice to 'burn and cut--
this is no place for clemency'. Coornhert was a liberal Catholic,
but Protestants also despised Lipsius either as a spokesman for
rigid Calvinism or as an agent of the Inquisition. The acrimony
set Lipsius on his travels again. He left Leiden for Liège, won
a pardon from the Spaniards, and mended his fences with the
Jesuits; by 1592 he was teaching again in Louvain. The church
disappointed him by putting the Politics and other works on
the Index in 1593, even after he had submitted corrections.
For a time he concentrated on history and philology, but then
in 1604-5 he earned the contempt of Protestants and Catholics
alike when he tried to display his loyalty to Rome in two
childishly transparent tracts on miracles performed at shrines
of the Virgin. Around the same time, two years before his
death in 1606, appeared his two much more sophisticated ex-
positions of Stoic philosophy, the Manductio and Physiologia.



Lipsius ( 1939: 117); Oestreich ( 1982: 28-30, 35).


Always on guard for the ecclesiastical watchdogs, Lipsius was
careful not to claim absolute validity for the Stoic system, but
he tried to show that it was philosophy's best accommodation
to Christianity. 95

Taking this cautious approach, the Manductio concludes that
the best philosophy must be eclectic, adhering to no single
school; but in explicating the history, organization, and con-
tent of Stoicism, Lipsius worked hard to brighten its appeal to
Christians. Aristotle prevails in natural philosophy. Plato out-
shines him in religion. But since one must use natural philo-
sophy to find God's will working in creation, Stoicism will be
the ideal choice because it was organized to discover God in
nature. Although every schoolmaster has Aristotle's philosophy
on his lips, the doctrine of the Stoics needs broader exposure.
Still, the wise will choose eclectically, cutting and trimming as
salvation and orthodoxy require; not all Stoic teachings are
equally well suited to Christianity. The doctrine of ethically
indifferent actions, for example, impairs moral integrity. Some
of the Stoic ethical paradoxes serve the Christian well: it rein-
forces humility and poverty of spirit to hold that a kingdom
should please the sage no more than slavery. But no circum-
stances can justify suicide, incest, or cannibalism. To tell the
good advice from the bad, the wise aspire to universal know-
ledge, which obviously includes the world of nature; less ob-
vious are the moral inferences that Seneca and Epictetus taught
Lipsius to draw from man's natural condition. While Montaigne
had denounced natural theology to honour a hidden God,
Lipsius wanted to uncover nature's God through a philosophy
that bases ethics and theology on physics. Ethically and theo-
logically, the key premisses are that God's laws are nature's
laws and that the good life conforms to nature. Within nature
the Stoics detected a logos or principle of order which they
treated as an aspect of divinity; to Christians the Logos would
be familiar as God's Word teaching mankind its place in the
cosmos. Like other pagans, the Stoics talked as if the gods



Ruysschaert ( 1949: 13-17); Saunders ( 1955: 31-56); Leclerc ( 1955: ii.
242-6); Oestreich ( 1982: 39-40, 45-6).


were many, though they really had in mind the various faces of
providence. 96

Lipsius recognized the importance of physics for Stoic philo-
sophy in the Manductio, but he left the detailed analysis of
natural philosophy as the foundation of ethics and theology for
the Physiologia. The main burden of the work is to explain
away conflicts between Stoic physics and Christianity or, failing
that, to delete unresolved contradictions from a Christianized,
Neo-Stoic natural philosophy. Stoic theology from a Christian
point of view is uncomfortably materialist, pantheist, and de-
terminist. When Lipsius found the Stoic God described in
Diogenes Laertius as 'a craftsmanlike fire proceeding to create',
he preserved the witness to creation by referring to Exodus,
where a theophanic pillar of fire leads Israel through the wild-
erness. He maintained that the Stoics did not really equate
God with air or pneuma or spiritus, but he accepted God
world-soul, interpreted as the All in which every living thing
exists. When he read in Aulus Gellius that Chrysippus called
fate 'a certain everlasting ordering of the whole', Lipsius iden-
tified fate with God's providential reason. God is fate, which
thus poses no threat to divine might or freedom. Fate causes
everything, but not every act is a direct effect of fate. Within
the sphere of fate's indirect effects (via second causes), humans
preserve their moral liberty and responsibility. Noble deeds
and vile crimes are their own, rescued by the distinction be-
tween first and second causes. Matter is also primary and
secondary. Like God, first matter is timeless and unchanging;
second matter comes and goes. God does not make primary
matter because he is primary matter; he creates only the
secondary matter of natural objects. To fend off the charge of
materialist blasphemy, Lipsius had to show that a corporeal
God is theologically legitimate, so he pointed out how-the
Stoics described any real entity as active or passive and hence
corporeal. As the first active being, God must be corporeal in
this sense, though he is clearly not an ordinary body as Lipsius.
understood the term. To keep his faith with Christianity,



Saunders ( 1955: 67-116).


Lipsius did some violence to Stoic conceptions of matter, body,
and. God in this analysis; and in defending the Stoic view of-
the soul as a vital pneuma, he did even less well by Christian
standards, whether religious or philosophical. 97

Politics and moral disorder: Erasmus, More, and Machiavelli

Versatile in his religious habits, Lipsius could also be morally
pragmatic, influenced in this by the historian Tacitus. Both
Lipsius+ and Guillaume du Vair, another theorist who sheltered
in Stoicism from the religious storms of the late sixteenth
century, were more receptive than many contemporaries to
the view that reasons of state sometimes prevail over ordinary
moral reasons--the Machiavellian doctrine of ragione di stato.
'Machiavellian' is the right word here: the actual phrase was
not Machiavelli's, but Francesco Guicciardini, Innocent Gen-
tillet, Jean Bodin, Giovanni Botero and others gave 'reason of
state' a life of its own. In his Six Books of Politics, Lipsius
openly defended Machiavelli in agreeing that public welfare
sometimes requires the ruler to choose the useful lie over the
inexpedient truth. Even Montaigne, another student of confes-
sional strife, gave similar advice in writing 'Of the Useful and
the Honorable' between 1585 and 1588. 'I will follow the good
side right to the fire,' he declared, 'but not into it if I can help
it.' By the end of this brief essay, Montaigne had gathered his
own, honest choices safely under the cover of a private moral-
ity. He had also concluded that to 'argue the honour and
beauty of an action from its utility' was only a 'pretext of
reason'. But along the way he gave hostages to necessity. 'In
every government', he conceded,

there are necessary offices which are not only abject but also vicious.
Vices find their place in it and are employed for sewing our society
together. . . . If they become excusable, inasmuch as we need them
and the common necessity effaces their true quality, we still must let
this part be played by the more vigorous . . . who sacrifice their



Ibid. 117-217, esp. 127-8, 140 ; Diogenes Laertius7. 156; Aulus Gellius,
Attic Nights 7. 2. 3; Long and Sedley ( 1987: i. 336); Exod. 13: 21.


honour and their conscience . . . for the good of their country. . . .
The public welfare requires that a man betray and lie and massacre;
let us resign this commission to more obedient and suppler people. 98

At best, this is a personal evasion that confuses, if it does not
contradict, conclusions reached a few pages later. Thinking
out loud and on paper is the essayist's occupational hazard.
At worst, the passage takes many words to condone what
Machiavelli said succinctly in the Discourses about Romulus,
the patriarch of Rome who murdered his brother: 'If the deed
accuses him, the result excuses him.' 99 Montaigne suspected
and Machiavelli insisted that political ends justify means. Both
were engaged observers of contemporary politics as well as
readers of the ancient history newly illuminated by humanism.

Humanists since Petrarch had followed their moral curiosity
into the riskier paths of politics. They hoped that calm Stoics
and detached Platonists might tame Europe's warrior aristo-
cracy and bring harmony to her swarming cities, goals that
eluded even the powers of Christian faith. Their aims were
peaceable and constructive, but their arguments were often
trite and formulaic. Most preferred virtue (virtus) to force
(vis), but they saw virtue as a means to glory, earthly or
heavenly, thus allowing the chivalry and their bourgeois mimics
a righteous way to fame, with all that this motive implies about
just wars and honourable peaces. In explicit terms, however,
humanists abandoned the scholastic doctrine of the just war
and repudiated the Aristotelian citizen-warrior, favouring the
Stoic opinion that all war is fratricide over the more bellicose
teachings of Augustine and Aquinas. Yet they assumed that
any ruler's virtus could be the same as Christian virtue, simply
adding conventional princely qualities (justice, clemency, trust-
worthiness) to moral attributes (wisdom, temperance, courage)
that belong to any good person. Outside Venice and Florence,
humanists of quattrocento ' Italy had to address the princes and
princelings who ruled everywhere, but the anomalous politics
of these two great cities gave rise to a special literature about



Montaigne ( 1965: 600-1, 610); Meinecke ( 1965: 25-89); Skinner ( 1978:
i. 253-4).


Machiavelli ( 1954: 116).


civic virtue--moral qualities that might belong to citizens or
even the whole citizenry and thus transcend the personal traits
(whether Christian or Stoic) of the individual ruler. Bruni
Praise of the City of Florence ( 1403-4) was the fountainhead
of humanist republicanism, as distinct from the more aristo-
cratic theories of mixed government that arose in the Venetian
context, and the central issue in Florentine politics was the
preservation of liberty by an effective polity and a strong
army. Although Bruni and his successors thought of liberty
mainly as the city's freedom from external constraint, they
.opted for republican rather than aristocratic government be-
cause all citizens have an incentive for virtuous conduct if the
constitution protects individual as well as communal liberty. 100

Civic obligation means that the virtuous citizen will choose
the active over the contemplative life, negotium over otium.
Moreover, while Aristotle had taught that only the aristocrat
who inherits wealth and power has the time or means for full
citizenship, a broader civic mandate subverts hereditary aristo-
cracy, especially the rural feudalism of medieval Europe. If
virtue is the true nobility, as Poggio, Platina, and other scholars
contended, the genetic patent of feudal aristocracy may be
false. At this point, when classicism had become a political
threat, events and their own further researches saved the.
humanists from sedition. Bruni had many followers, but as the
decades passed his message became less persuasive to scholars
who served the signori. Other, less creative purveyors of poli-
tical advice, like the two Decembrii who worked for the Vis-
conti despots of Milan, developed a more saleable line of
textbooks for tyrants, trying all the while to convince them
that virtus is better than vis. Even in Florence the success of
Cosimo de' Medici and his family reduced the appeal of repub-
lican theory, and the parallel growth of Platonic scholarship
from Bruni to Ficino uncovered the ancient blueprint of the
Republic to autocrats who might wish to be seen as philo-
sopher-kings. Bartolomeo Scala 1483 work On Laws and
and Landino treatise of 1485-7 On True Nobility



Bruni ( 1987: 101-21); Adams ( 1962: 7-8, 88-111, 134-43); Skinner
( 1978: i. 68-112; 1988: 413-25).


were two leading products of this trend toward a humanist
ideology of autocracy and civic quietism. If the best life was
the life of the mind detached from worldly desire, then the vita
was no longer dereliction of civic duty. 101

When humanists in northern Europe first turned to political
theory, they did little but adapt earlier Italian versions of
classical ideas to regional and historical circumstances. Some
issues that gripped the Italians, such as the use of mercenaries,
were less pressing north of the Alps, while others, above an
the choice between republican and autocratic government, were
not real options in England, France, or the Empire. But even
before Luther, problems of social, cultural, and religious re-
form weighed on Erasmus, Thomas More, and other northern
thinkers and caused them to frame the political debate in ways
that departed from the Italian models. More wrote his long
letter to Martin Dorp in 1515, but its fundamental claim that
Peripatetic school philosophy is not the philosophy of Christ
or a proper basis of Christian life was visible earlier, especially
in two influential works by Erasmus, the Handbook of the
Christian Soldier
of 1503-4 and The Praise of Folly of 1511.
Christ, who rules the hearts of the faithful, cannot be made to
serve professors; neither lawyers nor logicians may dissect the
living fabric of his Gospel. In political theory, the first major
product of Erasmian Christianity was The Education of a
Christian Prince
, dedicated to the future Charles V in 1516,
but it is a disappointing appendix to the robust philosophia
. The book requires the prince to be a good Erasmian
Christian and a paragon of virtue, but, like other early mode
theorists, Erasmus made honour the ruler's motive for virtue,
thereby ratifying the old chivalric morality while trying to
Christianize and classicize it. Erasmus was no ardent Platonist,
but he saw government more as guarantor of order in the style
of Plato Republic than as guardian of liberty in the manner of
Bruni Laudatio. Anyone who thinks that humanism had to
be democratic should read his repeated pleas to train the
prince away from 'the great mass of people . . . swayed by



Skinner ( 1978: i. 77-84, 105-9, 113-17; 1988:419-29).


false opinions . . . [like] those in Plato's cave'. His deepest
conviction--that good education makes good politics--was
common to the whole genre of 'mirror-for-princes' books.
'None is more worthy of . . . honour', he maintained, 'than he
who labors in the proper training of the prince. . . . A
country owes everything to a good prince: him it owes to the
man who made him such by his moral principles.' Neither
Luther nor More nor Machiavelli had as much confidence in
the ruler's educability or the schoolteacher's powers. More
credible, at least as representing his own belief, was what
Erasmus said about the prince's obligations to justice and his
proper attitude to war. On the latter point he had already de-
clared himself in the well-known chapter of the 1515 Adages,
'War is Sweet to Those Who Know It Not', and later in the
1517 Complaint of Peace. In the Institutio principis Christiani
he wrote that 'a good prince should never go to war at all
unless . . . he cannot possibly avoid it. If we were of this mind,
there would hardly [ever] be a war.' Just as adamant was the
advice that 'if you cannot defend your realm without violating
justice . . . , give up and yield to the importunities of the age!
. . . It is far better to be a just man than an unjust prince.' To
imagine a moral distance greater than that between Erasmus
and Machiavelli on this point is difficult. 102

Unlike Machiavelli and More, Erasmus was never a minister
of government. He became a celebrity, well-known to the
mighty, but never bound to serve them politically. He never
had to face the consequences of his advice to princes within a
sphere of action for which he himself was accountable to the
ruler and the ruled. The earlier humanist literature had sub-
sumed this 'problem of counsel' within the old debate about
action and contemplation, and its findings were as superficial



Erasmus ( 1968: 141, 145, 148, 150, 155, 248 [ Born tram.]); More
( 1965- : vol. xv, pp. xix-xxviii, 2-127); Adams ( 1962: 93-108, 164-8);
Bainton ( 1969: 65-71, 90-7); Skinner ( 1978: i. 200-50; 1988: 443-8); Screech
( 1988: 1-11). On Erasmus see also Allen ( 1914); Smith ( 1923); Bataillon
( 1937); Mann Philipps ( 1959); Kohls ( 1966); Margolin ( 1967; 1972; 1986;
1987); Halkin ( 1969); Mesnard ( 1969); Tracy ( 1972); O'Rourke Boyle ( 1977;
1983); Chomarat ( 1981); Trinkaus ( 1983: 274-301); Rummel ( 1985; 1986);
Schoeck ( 1988; 1990).


as the framework was conventional. The object of literary
counsel might sometimes be the ruler's courtiers or even his
subjects, but the audience for direct advice was usually the
prince himself, and the humanists most often consulted the
ruler's interest rather than their own when they agonized about
giving advice. Most made the predictable choice and agreed to
serve. From their own perspective as advisers, the main issues
were personal dangers, physical and ethical, that might befall a
scholar who puts himself within reach of princely passions, as
well as the professional distractions that a busier life will bring.
Deeper concerns about intellectual independence and moral-
responsibility seldom surfaced in the quattrocento literature,
but they are at the forefront of More Utopia, though it does
not belong to the genre of advice books. 103

Utopia, written in the third decade after the voyages, of
Columbus, was one of many early modern fictions set in the
frame of a traveller's tale. Its full title says that it is about the
Best State of a Commonwealth [reipublicae statu] and the New
Island of Utopia
; the author's purpose was to criticize the
status of Christian Europe by comparing it to the imaginary
Utopian respublica. Raphael Hythlodaeus, More's fictional in-
formant who had sailed to the new world with Amerigo Ves-
pucci, reported that the Utopians 'cling above all to mental
pleasures. . . . Of these the principal part they hold to arise
from the practice of the virtues and' the consciousness of a
good life.' Since the highest pleasures belong to the mind and
the best mental pleasures involve thinking about virtue, virtue
seems to be its own cognitive reward--a Stoicized and sub-
limated hedonism. Utopians cultivate virtue to root out the
vices that infest Christendom, especially the chief vice of pride.
Reason and natural virtue have made them better morally
than Europeans who are Christian in name only, and Utopians
are therefore quick to accept the Gospel as soon as they
understand it. In some respects, the studious and regimented
collectivism of Utopia recalls the medieval monastic ideal, but
the sources of More's perfect society, the Stoic--Epicurean



Skinner ( 1978: i. 213-20).


ethics and the Platonic politics, are squarely in the humanist
tradition, and the purpose of his book was to advance the
Erasmian project of social and moral change, using irony and
polemic to shame Europeans into becoming better Christians.
In matters of religion, Utopians are more open-minded than
Christians, certainly more tolerant than More in the Dialogue
Concerning Heresies
of 1529, and they practise the relentless
educational regimen that Erasmus preached, thus brightening
More's darker view of the human condition corrupted by pride
and other sins. Utopian society is a triumph of culture over
nature, a continuing education programme without end, and
Utopian man is perfectible within natural limits. All this makes
sense as an extension of prior humanist political theory, but in
one crucial case More broke with humanist precedent: he did
not accept that the ruling class really possessed the virtues
attributed to it or that its actual qualities were those that a
Christian should be proud of. 104

Class and property -- social hierarchy and economic inequity
-- are the two main targets of the reforms implied in the
account of Utopia given by Hythlodaeus in Book II of More's
work. Self-interest or respect for Gospel teaching would long
since have moved Europeans to adopt the Utopian system, he

had not one single monster . . . striven against it -- I mean, Pride.
Pride measures prosperity not by her own advantages but by others'
disadvantages. Pride would not consent to be made even a goddess if
no poor wretches were left for her to domineer, . . . if the display of
her riches did not . . . intensify their poverty.

Pride feeds the 'conspiracy of the rich' that passes for govern-
ment in Christian nations, but in Utopia the antidote for
pride is



More ( 1963- : iv. 175 [ Surtz trans.]); vi. 2. 439-72); Hexter ( 1965: 50-
5, 59, 116-20); Skinner ( 1978: i. 255-7, 260-1; 1988: 448-51); Marius ( 1984:
123-51, 325-50, 386-406). For the Latin and English works in the Yale edn.,
see More ( 1963- ); see also Chambers ( 1935) ; Surtz ( 1957a; 1957b);
Marc'hadour ( 1963; 1969); McConica ( 1965); Skinner ( 1967); Schoeck ( 1976);
White ( 1976; 1987); De Pina Martins ( 1979); Kristeller ( 1980a); Kinney ( 1981);
Fox ( 1982); Kenny ( 1983); Logan ( 1983); Trinkaus ( 1983: 422-36); Martz
( 1990).


the principal foundation of their whole structure . . . , their common
life and subsistence -- without any exchange of money -- [which] . . .
overthrows all the nobility, magnificence, splendour, and majesty
which are, in the estimation of the common people, the true glories
and ornaments of the commonwealth. 105

This appeal to vulgar esteem for pomp and riches is More's
(intentionally) facile retort to Hythlodaeus at the end of Book
II of Utopia, but at the end of Book I, before hearing the
description of the island given in the second book, he offers
more serious objections when Hythlodaeus claims that 'no
happiness can be found in human affairs unless private property
is utterly abolished'. More replies that sloth will suffocate
industry if there is no 'motive of personal gain'; without laws
to protect property, public disorder will destroy respect for
government. The burden of the second book is to show in
detail how the Utopians avoid the torpor and chaos that More
predicts. 106

Utopians keep nothing private, use no money domestically,
trade houses every ten years, make chains and chamber-pots
of gold, give their children jewels for toys, and go to extra-
ordinary lengths to avoid war, regarding it as 'an activity fit
only for beasts'. Hunting, the other great pastime of the nobi-
lity, they treat as 'the meanest part of the butcher's trade', but
all men and women, except a few hundred scholars, work at
crafts and at farming. Utopia expropriates the expropriators
who in Europe waste the labour of those they oppress, leaving
no place for 'the rich, especially the masters of estates, who
are commonly termed gentlemen and noblemen . . . , [and]
their retainers, . . . that whole rabble of good-for-nothing
swashbucklers'. 107 Having levelled society, the Utopians build
it up on the basis of the family, patriarchal and patrilocal. The
eldest male 'rules the household. Wives wait on their husbands,



More ( 1963- : iv. 241-5 [ Surtz trans.]); Hexter ( 1965: 73-80); Skinner
( 1978: i. 260-1; 1988: 449-51).


More ( 1963- : iv. 105-7 [ Surtz trans.]); Hexter ( 1965: 34-47, 57, 64-


More ( 1963- : iv. 61-5, 131, 139, 171, 199 [ Surtz trans.]); Hexter
( 1973: 50-7, 193-7); Skinner ( 1978: i. 255-61).


children on their parents, and generally the younger on their
elders.' Beyond the universal obligation to labour, women
must cook the food and serve it, wear special dress, and marry
at eighteen -- four years before men. Women study, become
priests, go to war with their husbands, end their marriages by
mutual consent, and serve as special judges in other divorce
cases. At least abstractly, More's sense of sexual equity may
have been in advance of his time, but one feels its animal
limits in the passage that justifies the Utopian custom of show-
ing the bride and groom naked to each other before marriage.
'In buying a colt,' says Hythlodaeus, 'persons are so cautious
that . . . they will not buy until they have taken off the saddle.
. . . Yet in the choice of a wife, . . . they estimate the value of
the whole woman from hardly a single handbreadth of her,
only the face being visible.' 108

The subtitle of Utopia gives More the title 'citizen and sheriff
of . . . London', though he was actually deputy sheriff at the
time and had been since 1510. When the book first appeared
in Louvain in 1516, for all intents and purposes he was still a
free public intellectual, like Erasmus, to whom he had sent a
copy before publication. But a year later, when his role in
quelling the xenophobic riots of Evil May Day enlarged his
fame in London, More accepted Henry VIII's invitation to
become a councillor, and by the summer of 1518 he was on the
royal payroll. Having entered the king's service, wherein he
had no great influence on policy for more than a decade, More
sealed his practical response to the 'problem of counsel', whose
theory he debates with Hythlodaeus in the first book of Utopia.
Unlike Erasmus and other humanists, he found the question
genuinely perplexing and treated it with seriousness and ori-
ginality. The philosopher's role as adviser is to speak the truth
and offer new ideas, says Hythlodaeus, which is why 'there is
no room for philosophy with rulers'. More, conceding that
school philosophy's 'new and Strange ideas' will be out of place
at court, recommends a tactful (commodus) and indirect (obli-
) line: 'What you cannot turn to good you must make as



More ( 1963- : iv. 137, 187-9 [ Surtz trans.]); Hexter ( 1973: 41-5).


little bad as you can.' Hythlodaeus objects that going mad is
no way to cure lunacy: 'To speak falsehoods . . . may be the
part of a philosopher, but it is certainly not for me.' More's
tactic is a blunder as well as a crime. Evil companions will
corrupt the philosopher in politics, and the adviser who dis-
sembles will soon expose himself as a virus in the ruler's will:
'He would be counted a spy . . . who gives only faint praise to
evil counsels.' What the prince wants is philosophical absolu-
tion, not advice. 109

The philosopher may enter politics to ameliorate (with More)
or to annihilate. Or he may abstain from politics in order to
criticize freely (with Erasmus and Hythlodaeus). The first
course is closed to the critic who wants to give original advice
without accommodation. Because the second is dangerous,
few thinkers actually become revolutionaries. These dilemmas
of theoretical innovation are the heart of the dialogue of coun-
sel in the first book of Utopia. 110 Practical innovation in politics
is the core of Machiavelli counsel in The Prince, an advice
book written in 1513, three years before Utopia, but unknown
to More because it was published only in 1532. Abrupt political
change was on Machiavelli's mind because his professional
fortunes in Florence rose and fell in the decades around the
start of the sixteenth century when the Medici lost and regained
power several times, quickening the old debate about princely
or republican rule. Despite his long service to the Florentine
republic, and despite his republican sympathies in the Dis-
of 1514-19, Machiavelli wrote The Prince when offer-
ing advice to the resurgent Medici seemed expedient to him,
as to other observers. His book, like others of its genre, aims
to show the prince how to win glory and keep it, and like the
others it makes something called 'virtue' (virtù) the great means
to that end. Christian moral theology, with its roots in Greek
and Latin terminology, had long since developed its own taxo-
nomy of virtues and vices, an ethical vocabulary that was part
of the common lexicon of early modern Europe. Machiavelli



More ( 1963- : iv. 1, 99-103 [ Surtz trans.]); Hexter ( 1965: 103-38);
Marius ( 1984: 188-216).


Hexter ( 1973: 85-93, 199-201).


debased that language, transforming it more profoundly than
More devalued such terms of praise as 'noble' or 'glorious'.
Machiavelli changed the sense of virtù, stato, and other words
in ways from which political and moral discourse in the West
has not recovered. 111

Machiavelli believed that all governments rest on 'good laws
and good arms', but that the former result from the latter,
permitting him to 'leave aside talk of laws and speak about
arms', which he did at great length in The Prince, plainly
contradicting the humanist critique of warfare. The main ob-
jects of Machiavelli's counsel and the heroes of his book are
new princes, innovators (innovatori) in practical politics who
get what they want by 'depending on themselves and knowing
how to use force, . . . whence it happens that all armed pro-
phets win, while the unarmed lose'. Political innovation in
Utopia is prophecy unarmed, the power of the word charged
by biblical example, refined by classical culture, but dampened
by the cynicism of Hythlodaeus and by More's hesitations.
Machiavelli, however, had the memory of Savonarola to con-
vince him that the sword was sharper than the word, that even
Moses would have failed without weapons. Given the material
means of coercion, what allows the person who takes a prin-
to 'keep it [mantenerli], with more or less difficulty, is
that the one who acquires it is more or less skilful [virtuoso]. . . .
This result, that a private person becomes a prince, presup-
poses either skill [virtù] or luck [fortuna].' No English render-
ings of virtù and virtuoso will do the job here, least of all
'virtue' and 'virtuous' with their overtones of Christian piety,
the furthest thing from Machiavelli's mind. In most cases, true
to its Latin roots, virtù in The Prince names qualities that bring
success in arms; it rarely carries any moral freight. Virtù is the
trait that permits innovation in politics, and since everyone
assumed that custom was the ground of legitimacy, what virtù
causes is illegitimate because it is unaccustomed. 'Avoid every
novel idea . . . for even if conditions are bettered thereby, the



Ridolfi ( 1963: 145-54); Chabod ( 1965: 30-46); Hexter ( 1973: 189-97);
Skinner ( 1978: i. 117-18, 152-5; 1988: 430-6); above, Ch. 1, n. 44.


very innovation is a stumbling block': this was Erasmus' advice
to the prince, and nothing out of the ordinary. Machiavelli
understood that a legitimate secular order must be customary,
but he encouraged the new prince to forget legitimacy and
morality, as necessity demands. He devised a theory and a
technique of illegitimate politics in which virtù is the quality
that delegitimizes -- quite unlike the task of virtue as a common
moral category. 112

One can scarcely exaggerate the violence done by Machia-
velli's language and ideas to the discourse of virtues and vices
that early modern Christians took for granted. Chapter 15 of
The Prince dismisses the ruler's need for ordinary personal
virtues -- mercy, kindness, reverence, loyalty, generosity, and
so on -- and the next four chapters dispense with liberality,
clemency, trustworthiness, and other special princely virtues.
The lesson is a brutal one, beginning with the observation that

the distance is so great between how one lives and how one ought to
that a person who neglects what happens for what ought to
studies his destruction . . . , because, among the many who
are not good, one who wants to do good everywhere must be des-
troyed. Hence, a prince who wants to keep what he has [mantenere]
must learn how to be not good. . . . For a prince to have all the . . .
qualities considered good would surely be most laudable, but, be-
cause this cannot be . . . , he must have enough sense to avoid the
scandal of those vices that would cost him the state [lo stato]. . . .

What Machiavelli meant by lo stato was not the modern 'nation'
or 'government' or 'people' or any values implied by such
words. It was simply what the prince wants to get (acquistare)
and to keep (mantenere), the crude object of political will
along with the instruments that serve it. Professor Hexter's
account of lo stato is classic: it is not 'a matrix of values' of any
kind, nor even a moral scheme in which political success is
right and failure is wrong. 'It is merely success to succeed, and
failure to fail. Right is not might, might is not right; might is
might, and that is what Il Principe is about.' 113



Machiavelli ( 1954: 18, 20, 39); Erasmus ( 1968: 211 [ Born trans.]);
Hexter ( 1973: 189-92); Pocock ( 1975: 156-7, 163-7).


Machiavelli ( 1954: 50-1); Hexter ( 1973: 154-6, 167-71, 186-92).


The Prince is frightening to read -- or should be -- because it
is so seductive. The argument is direct, the language clear, the
examples apt and compelling. From the first chapters, what
Machiavelli writes with such virtuosity is awful to contemplate,
as only the text itself can show:

A new prince always needs to harm those he comes to rule.
People should either be pampered or extinguished.
One should never let things get disorderly in order to avoid a war.
There is no sure way to hold cities but to destroy them.
In [ Cesare Borgia] . . . there was such ferocity and virtù, and he knew
so well how people have to be gained or spent.
Cruel acts can be called good practices (if it is right to speak well of
evil) when done all at once, out of the need to make oneself secure.
Because it is hard to mix the two together, it is much safer to be
feared than loved.

A prudent ruler cannot keep his word, nor should he, when keeping
it is not in his interest.
[A prince] must be a great fake and fraud; people are so simple. . . .
Luck is a lady: to keep her down, one must beat her and shove her
around. 114

These are epigrams of terror, theorems of a savage political
calculus. Much of the power of Machiavelli's work comes from
his mastery of form, but his talent did not stop with the
gnomic sentence. He also told stories about ancient Rome and
contemporary Europe, the latter often taken from his own
professional experience. In Chapter 7, for example, where he
recounts his admiration for Cesare Borgia, he tells how the
duke used Remirro de Orco, 'a cruel and ready man', giving
him total authority to subdue the Romagna and then making
an end of him when 'excessive authority' was no longer ex-
pedient. Cesare hauled his efficient lieutenant before a kan-
garoo court, aiming

to show that, if any cruelty had occurred, it came not from him but
from the harsh nature of his minister. One morning, when the time
was right, he had him cut in two pieces and put in the town square in
Cesena, with a piece of wood and a bloody knife beside him. The



Machiavelli ( 1954: 6, 8, 13, 17, 26, 31, 54, 57, 82).


brutality of this spectacle satisfied the people and at the same time
stunned them.

We remember the scene because it is hideous, so simple, so
bloody in the morning sun. And we remember Cesare Borgia,
the new prince in whom Machiavelli could find 'nothing to
blame', making him a model 'for all those who rise to power
by luck and with the arms of others'. 115 For a few years, at
least, Cesare had followed where virtù led him in the eternal
race with fortuna. His vices and virtues were beside the point,
if one accepts Machiavelli's perverse verdict: 'In the actions of
all people, especially princes . . . , look to the end. Let the
prince prevail, then, and hold his stato: his means will always.'
be judged honorable and praised by all.' 116

The Prince is a quick masterpiece, faster with its grim advice
than the longer and kinder Discourses on the First Ten Books
of Livy
, whose slower rhythms suit a loose reflection on an
ancient text. If The Prince echoes the moral panic of Machia-
velli's time and of later ages, the Discourses recall Bruni's
more confident era and revive the case for civic virtue in a
people vigilant for liberty. The Discourses lack the excitement
and audacity of the earlier work, but novel and disquieting
passages are not wanting. Machiavelli meant the stern lessons
of The Prince for times when civic 'virtù has collapsed and
fortuna reigns; if some lone soldier of innovation bullies fortuna
and wins the day, his victory will inhibit civic life because
those not frozen by fear of the new prince will scurry for
favours and further degrade themselves. Machiavelli despised
ordinary human nature because he rarely saw virtù in it, but
his loathing was not complete. Because he believed it possible
for his contemporaries to repeat the civic triumphs of repub-
lican Rome as recorded by Sallust and Livy, the Discourses
propose a frame of political action open to the citizenry as a
whole and therefore of a different moral order than the in-
novations of The Prince -- but not entirely different. 117



Ibid. 24-5, 27.


Ibid. 58 ; Pocock ( 1975: 156-7); Skinner ( 1988: 433-4).


Pocock ( 1975: 156-7, 160-3) ; Skinner ( 1988: 435-7).


Machiavelli was sure that virtù could prosper only if the
(adult, male, native) people had real liberty, so he was willing
to sacrifice the ideals of order and harmony that often attracted
earlier theorists to more aristocratic arrangements. If, to en-
gender virtù, the commonwealth must breed unrest, so be it,
and so much the worse for law and order. Laws are needed, to
be sure, because people are evil and selfish; only the force of
law makes them good. But in the special case of civic goodness
-- virtù -- Christian precepts are ruinous: they corrupt and de-
bilitate. Machiavelli did not reach this pertinacious conclusion
by doubting the power of religion. On the contrary, so im-
pressed was he by religion as a force in history that he wished
to naturalize it as an instrument of politics. Behind the indict-
ment of Christianity in the second book of the Discourses are
the chapters of the first book that show how the Romans used
religion to strengthen their republic. But religion has had the
contrary effect on Christendom.

In those ancient times people loved liberty more . . . [because] they
were stronger, . . . which, I believe, can be traced to the difference
. . . between their religion and ours. Our religion shows us the . . .
true way of life, . . . finding the greatest good in humility, lowliness
and disdain for human things. . . . Hence, [Christian] bravery . . . [has
to do] more with suffering than with doing brave things. Living this
way seems to have made the world weak, . . . easy pickings for those
bent on crime. . . . The world has turned effeminate, and Heaven has
been disarmed . . . [through] the cowardice of people who have inter-
preted our religion according to laziness [ozio] rather than virtù. 118

Perhaps Machiavelli really thought that a true reading of the
Gospel would have stirred other Cesare Borgias to enlarge the
power of other popes like Alexander VI. Or maybe, having
called asceticism and humility 'the true way of life', he meant
that the best morals cannot promote the best politics: Christian
virtues will never equip the meek to inherit an earth ruled by
virtù. If so, while early modern readers might have seen the
Discourses as less vicious than The Prince, the gentler work
should have given them small comfort in its basic moral dis-



Machiavelli ( 1954: 36-7, 227); Headley ( 1988); Skinner ( 1988: 438-40).


position, which rests on the same relation of ends and means:
'never will a judicious intelligence blame anyone for any action
out of the ordinary [straordinaria] if its purpose is to put a
kingdom in order [ordinare] or set up a republic.' In this case,
the frail Christian economy of virtues and vices can never
sustain a politics that attains virtù, whether civic or autocratic.
Europe's ordinary morality cannot guide the governance of
her peoples or constrain the will of her princes. Humanism
enabled Machiavelli to learn from antiquity and to find there a
great part of what he needed to make himself a capable states-
man, a prolific man of letters, and a brilliant political philo-
sopher, but it also helped him open a fatal breach between
ethics and politics that we have yet to fill. 119



Pocock ( 1975: 176-80).


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